CULTURE- ART FEATURE- Living color: Enjoy Allard's illuminating eye!



Have you heard of "supertasters"? These are people whose tongues experience a more intense array of flavors than the rest of us sense. Their world is literally bitterer and sweeter than we can know.

Looking at the 90 images in William Albert Allard's retrospective, "Five Decades," at Les Yeux du Monde, I began to wonder if the longtime National Geographic photographer might not be the visual equivalent of a supertaster. Allard's ability to grasp the interplay of color, light, line, and shadow in fleeting moments is staggering. Luckily, he uses his camera to show us what he sees.

As a photojournalist, Allard creates images that convey a sense of location and culture, whether he's photographing the dusty antiquated brotherhood of buckaroos in Nevada or the steamy, neon-lit world of blues musicians along the Mississippi. Each picture tells more than a thousand words' worth about its subject.

But removed from their original context as ethnographic illustrations, Allard's photographs remain remarkable as art. His understanding of how light affects color is his hallmark. Yet what fuels his imagery is his skill at composition.

 "Cloud 9 Bar, Elko, Nevada, 1979" showcases his mastery of line and space. Here he frames a rich area of black on the upper right to contrast with the pinks, yellows, and reds illuminating the bar that dominates the vertical left and its reflection in a car's rear window in the lower right foreground.

 The lines– created by windows, signs, the pavement, etc.– are as squared as a de Stijl painting, with several key exceptions: the diagonal reflection of the bar's neon sign in the car's glass and a small parallelogram formed by a white sign at the center of the image. Three arced elements– the neon "9," an architectural detail, and the profile of a VW bug– echo each other and fall along another implied diagonal. The resulting image is literal in its depiction of a nighttime street scene, yet it expresses characteristics of a geometric abstract painting (and conveys the atmosphere of Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks").

Whether he's shooting an intimate portrait or capturing a dynamic scene, Allard is a virtuoso at placing his camera just so and knowing exactly when to trip the shutter. Regarding his images, Allard says, "I have always been a great believer in serendipity." His gift, though, is noticing the intensely colorful details when he's in the right place at the right time.

Run don't walk to see William Albert Allard's "Five Decades," which is on display only through June 30 at Les Yeux du Monde. 115 S. First St. 973-566.