Always in search of “what is happening at the edges,” William Albert Allard’s work reveals beauty, intrigue, and stunning reality. Part photography retrospective and part compelling memoir, Allard’s new book, William Albert Allard: Five Decades, paints a full picture – through images and narrative – of one of color photography’s most celebrated pioneers. For the past five decades, Allard has been able to enter people’s homes and hearts to capture stunning off-guard moments, revealing the depth of human nature as it had never before been seen in National Geographic.
Many of the pictures in this exhibition were found along a road, in a bar, down a street, maybe wandering through a country. Often I wasn’t looking for anything in particular but was simply allowing myself to be open to what serendipity might offer. Just looking. And many of these pictures were not really taken, they were given. The subjects trusted me. They projected something of themselves to me and it became my privilege and pleasure to receive that something, to look at it, to arrange the space in which it resided, find what seemed to be order within chaos and make the photograph.
When asked, as I sometimes am, to speak to a class of high school or college students, I usually get around to wishing for them something I consider special, and I emphasize that it’s probably not going to happen to all of them present, but I wish it for all of them nonetheless. I tell them that when they go out to earn a living – as almost everyone must, that although everyone would like to have a car they can depend upon, live in a house or dwelling they can feel good about, and be comfortable – more than money, I wish for them the joy of finding something with which to earn their living that they truly love to do. People are not running around in great numbers who can say that. I can. I know what it is like to have loved what I’ve done for a livelihood.
There are lyrics from Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” I think about sometimes. I favor Van Morrison’s version, so intense and almost desperate with a sense of loss. It’s the closing lyrics that really the tell the story:
When I was a child I caught a fleeting glimpse. Out of the corner of my eye I turned to look, but it was gone I cannot put my finger on it now, The child has grown, the dream is gone. And I have become Comfortably numb
Life does that to some of us. As the years pass the child within tends to grow up and often goes away, taking with it the dreams of childhood. Unlike that teenage son or daughter who goes off somewhere to college or to see the world, this inner child does not come back. The absence of that child can sometimes dampen the creative fires; the passions of earlier dreams may change to concerns for benefits accrued in the workplace: a variety of retirement plans and how soon one can get out of that workplace to have fun or perhaps to just rest. I’ve been quite lucky, blessed, I suppose. My inner child has never truly grown up. Each time I have the experience of seeing a visually exciting moment and trying to capture that moment in a camera, each time I’m writing about something I really care about, my childhood dreams are very much alive. And I’ve never wanted out of my workplace, which, for the most part, has been National Geographic magazine. During my career I’ve worked for and have been published in many different publications worldwide. But since I made my first photograph for them in 1964, National Geographic has been a kind of primary sponsor that allowed me to create most of the images in this book. I owe them my sincere gratitude. I’ve always tried to be worth their faith in me. I guess it’s because of their willingness over almost all of my career to support the kind of work I truly love to do, that my fire and passion for it still burns. And I’ve somehow managed to avoid becoming comfortably numb. I’m going to do my best to stay that way.
William Albert Allard, Montana, 2010