COVER This American life: William Albert Allard's chromatic chronicles
When William Albert "Bill" Allard accepted his first photographic assignment for National Geographic in 1963, he'd just graduated from the University of Minnesota. But he was already married with four children. He'd driven cabs to support his family while earning his degree and shot most of his student photojournalism projects at night. Perhaps this familiarity with life's mundane demands enabled Allard to notice– and capture– the evanescent beauty of everyday moments.
Bob Gilka, the Geographic's legendary photo editor, hired Allard as an intern that summer and sent him off to Pennsylvania to cover the Amish. "What Bob Gilka didn't tell me," Allard recalls, "is they'd assigned this story to a staff photographer, and he came back with nothing." Allard came back with something.
The resulting story, featuring memorable pictures like a young girl profiled beneath the muzzles of giant workhorses, launched Allard's career and introduced a new style of shooting to the magazine. "It had an intimacy that people weren't used to seeing in the National Geographic," he explains.
It was also the first time Allard worked in color. "What an extraordinary opportunity I had to finger paint," he says, noting that at 69, "I'm one of the very few my age whose entire body of professional work is in color."
Although Allard has traveled the world, shooting for publications as diverse as Life and Fortune, the Nelson County resident is best known for his prismatic slices of American life published in National Geographic. His images of cowboys, collected in the book The Vanishing Breed, are practically iconic, but his favorite project was recording images for Geographic's "The Blues Highway."
"I had the experience of just photographing the music," he says. "That was as good or better than all the years I chased around cow camps in Nevada."
Currently wrapping up a Geographic story about hunting, Allard says he's honored to take part in the Festival of the Photograph, but he confesses it's been "a pressure" deciding what to include in his "Five Decades" retrospective at Les Yeux du Monde. Regarding his upcoming interview with Alex Chadwick, he wishes the NPR host would ask, "Do you have a life beyond photography?" because Allard could then discuss his passions for hunting, cooking, music, and writing.
What does Allard consider the key to his photographic success? "I have always, always been a great believer in serendipity," Allard says. "That's been my card. You go out looking for something, and you always find something better than what you were looking for."
William Albert Allard's retrospective exhibition, "Five Decades," will be on view June 1-30 at Les Yeux du Monde, 115 South St. 973-5566. Allard will discuss his work with Alex Chadwick on June 7, 7-9pm at the Paramount Theater. For more information and/or to purchase tickets, visit .festivalofthephotograph.org.
Photo by William Albert Allard