Introduction: In the next few days I'm going to be covering a motley of recently encountered or recently released books, some of which I've seen, some of which I haven't. This post began as a simple listing of a few titles, and since then has been growing like the Blob that ate Brooklyn. Every day it's gotten a little bit larger, a little bit longer. So, rather than delay and delay until it's "finished" and publish it as one great big huge endless sprawling post, I thought I'd break it into pieces. That way, you actually get to see it.
And away we go. —Mike
The work of the great Bill Allard stands in a complex relationship to National Geographic magazine, which since 1962 has published much of that work. He is at once the quintessential NG photographer, and also a standout NG photographer, and also, it must be admitted, something of an anomaly as an NG photographer, in that he is really a reportorial photojournalist and a complex formalist photographer with a distinctive, influential style. And there's a further tension: many of his essentially investigative stories have been done of notoriously picturesque subjects, a few of which (cowboys, the Amish/Hutterites etc., bullfighting) can almost be seen as fish-in-a-barrel in this era in which all subjects get covered unto saturation.
I suppose you might have noticed that many retrospectives can be the best books by the artists so treated, because they gather together far-flung work, fill in missing ligatures, reveal rarities, and make a comprehensive, unified case for that person's vision and concerns. Others are more like samplers, bringing to mind the larger, more complete, more nuanced bodies of work from which the selections are drawn. Five Decades, oddly, is both: it conjures wholer sets of pictures and presents new material in about equal measure. I had never seen the Polaroids, for instance, or the intimate pictures of women. (And I'd never seen the picture from Junior Wells' funeral.)
Allard, son of a Swedish immigrant, Minnesota-raised, will go down as a major figure in the history of color photography, transitional to whatever period of the history of photography we're in now. He's one of the few photographers of his generation (born 1937) whose entire body of work is in color. And you just keep coming back to the one overriding salient characteristic of this retrospective: there's a photographic masterpiece on just about every single page.
I'll have more to say about this one in a bit, as the physical book is being sent to me as we speak.
But it seems clear that for most of us followers of the art, this 'un will be a must-have this Christmas season.
[To be continued....]
Send this post to a friend
Note: Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site. More...
Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Bill Mitchell: "Mine came yesterday. Definitely one of the Great Books of photography."
Featured Comment by JK: "Yes, a must-have, even for some of us who have had to cut way back on buying photo books due to lack of space and itinerant lifestyles. (This might be a good time to also mention William Albert Allard: The Photographic Essay [OoP but available used. —Ed.]. It’s a small book that gives a real insight into his way of working.)"
Featured Comment by Stuart Hamilton: "There are others I admire of course but Bill Allard is pretty much everything I'd like to be as a photographer. Vanishing Breed changed my life. Thank you Bill."