A native of Missouri, Allard began working for National Geographic in 1964 and now his prolific career spans five decades. He has photographed all over the world, from Italy to Peru, and has also captured intimate glimpses of parts of the United States seldom seen, such as the Mississippi Delta and the Missouri Breaks. In his more than twenty-five years spent working as a photographer, mostly for National Geographic, Allard developed a reputation as one of the most resourceful photographers of today. His entire body of work is in color, and uses rich warm light and slow exposure while treating each subject individually. Allard is the author of no less than five books, including Portraits of America and The Photographic Essay, and has also written for National Geographic. When not on assignment, he resides in Afton, VA with his family.
William Albert Allard: Five Decades
As a small boy I loved to draw.
I spent countless hours at the kitchen table or sprawled on the living room rug at home in north Minneapolis, making pictures. As a young man at the Minneapolis School of Fine Art, a desire to write flowered and became my primary creative ambition. Then, after transferring to the school of journalism at the University of Minnesota, I discovered photojournalism, the bringing together of words and pictures to create something potentially more powerful than either of the two by themselves. My love for words and pictures flourishes yet today, almost fifty years later.
Many of the pictures in this exhibit 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. Benedetta Buccellatto, the woman with blood red lips behind a black veil, was an actress in Syracuse, Sicily. She walked slowly in the dusk light behind the set on an ancient outdoor stage just prior to the opening act. She was, I believe, emerging into her character and as she walked alone I stepped into her path and, walking backwards, studied her face and made a handful of portraits while on the move. When I was finished I stepped aside, saying, “Grazi.” She nodded and continued on into her character. No other words were exchanged in the process of making that photograph. Some pictures—the Peruvian man emerging from the shadows of an archway in a village near Cuzco, for instance—are the result of intense looking, studying a place, watching the light and shadows change, looking, leaving, returning again to reexamine the space and working it, taking it apart and working it until something special enters, bringing with it that feeling of completion and you think, yes, that’s it. Sometimes I miss a wonderful photograph but leave with a sense of privilege for having witnessed it. I think to myself: Look at that! Did you see that?
As a small boy I loved to sing.
I spent summers on an uncle’s farm. My aunt assured my mother that “I always know where Billy is because I can hear him singing.” As a teenager I formed a trio. We worked small clubs in Minneapolis until I left the group to concentrate on my studies at the university. Music has been a nurturing force in my life. If I were not a photographer and a writer, if I were lucky enough, I’d make music my work. As with making photographs or crafting words for a living, it isn’t really about money. It’s about finding someway to go through life truly loving and needing what you do for that living.
William Albert Allard, Women in Rock Quarry
William Albert Allard, Three men listening to a poet, France, 1967
William Albert Allard, Benedetta Buccellato, Sicily, 1994
William Albert Allard, Smokedaddy Blues Club, Chicago, 1997
William Albert Allard, Towering Over Bardot, Paris, 1988
William Albert Allard, Stephanie Stahl at Bat, Montana, 2005
William Albert Allard, Henry Gray, Rancher, Arizona, 1970s
William Albert Allard, Cloud 9 Bar, Elko, Nevada, 1979