New York Photo Review
NYPR Archives - 2010

Darkness at the Geographic
William Albert Allard
Five Decades, A Retrospective
Reviewer # 1
William Albert Allard, “Henry Gray, Rancher, Arizona, 1970”

I must admit that William Albert Allard was not a photographer I was consciously aware of when I visited the Steven Kasher Gallery last week. I was surprised, then, at the number of his instantly recognizable images. Allard, of course, is not unknown, his pictures appearing in National Geographic Magazine since the 1960’s. Over that time his work has been most influential in changing the look and feel of the photography both in that magazine and in documentary photography in general.

Allard is fundamentally a colorist and intense color is the primary driver in many of his pictures. Yes– people and places are the subject– but his use of natural light, along with his muted sense of atmosphere, make the images special. His work is often dark, using large swaths of black, with just touches of color making it up to the surface.

 by unidentified photographer.
William Albert Allard, “Girls on the Swings, Surprise Creek Colony, Stanford, Montana, 2005”

It is sad then to report that the exhibition is a disappointment. By selecting the ‘best’ of many different stories, the context of the pictures is broken. But more to the point, Allard is a magazine photographer. His highly saturated images give the pages of National Geographic Magazine some much needed weight. They were made to work in that peculiar context and at that particular size. On a gallery wall, as isolated objects, they are compositionally awkward, the size of the prints working against them. In fact, they look best from a distance, when they are visually about the size of a magazine page. Closer in the colors start to decompose.

Could they be presented in a better format? Perhaps. But I suspect these images are at their peak as small pieces of 35mm film, on a lightbox, through a loupe. Or on the pages of those old National Geographics at your dentist’s office.

William Albert Allard
Five Decades, A Retrospective

Steven Kasher Gallery
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Thursday, December 2 to
Saturday, January 8, 2011
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