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Archive for December, 2010

Five Decades: A Retrospective, by William Allard, foreword by William Kittredge, Focal Point, National Geographic.

So it’s certainly only coincidence that a month or so back, I was in Missoula hanging out with Al and Ginger and watching a fledgling Missoula rollerderby team get trounced by a much more experienced team from Spokane, I think, which reminded me of one of my favorite all-time phrases, which is the Spokanification of Missoula, all of which was lots of fledgling fun, when Al introduced me briefly to a guy named Bill Allard, who quite enjoys the Kettlehouse, and who was hanging around looking like Ernest Hemingway’s idea of a photographer.

And then a week later, my editor at the Missoula Independent asked out of the blue if I’d review a new book I didn’t know Allard, who I didn’t otherwise know, had out. I remembered the name then, but didn’t remember that I already have one of his books, Portraits of America, presently stored away in a box somewhere. I’d found it in an Ann Arbor usedbook store and picked it up out of curiosity and looked at it quite a lot last year without the name quite embedding. The foreword to that book had been written, I’d also forgotten, by Thomas McGuane. Whose name may in fact have generated my original curiosity. About whom I tried hard to be thoughtful in my last review for the Indy. With the result that Tom McGuane took public offense in his online comment on the story, reproduced in its entirety below:

A friend of mine who claims I always get my worst reviews in Missoula which he describes as “a pleasant town fifteen minutes from Montana”, sent me this harsh view of my life and work. It does appear that I am in bad trouble both artistically and personally. For those readers who think the literary world ends with the Missoula Independent, I attach these positive notices in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post. -Tom McGuane
www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/arti…

latimes.com/2010/oct/31/entertainment/la-c…

nytimes.com/2010/10/24/books/review/Meloy-…

And of course I’m all like OMG, Tom McGuane read my review, and then I’m like, well, crap.

I said yes to the Allard, and it came in the mail, and I spent some quality time with it, and I talk on the phone to Allard about it, and you can READ THE ESSAY-TYPE RESULT  HERE.

Allard's "Eduardo Ramos with his dead sheep, Puno, Peru, 1981." Copyright William Allard I assume. Apologies for the craptacular lo-res web file. (His photos look much better in larger format, obviously, but big good-looking images are Allard's bread and butter, and one hesitates to just appropriate that on a blog, electronic displays and photographic authorship being what they are. So: the postage stamp, just to give you the barest idea.

Alternately, you could scan the excerpt below:

Allard refers to himself at various times as a street-shooter (his primary self-identification), a documentarian, and a photojournalist, and maybe as a result of his range, there’s really no instantly identifiable Allard style. An Allard photo is fully about its subject, even if what the subject is may be open to interpretation. For instance, there’s a picture on page 59, “Calving time, Padlock ranch, Montana, 1975,” that any idiot could tell you is a profile portrait of a horse standing in a storm. It looks to me like the most accurate visual representation of the verb “snow” I’ve seen.

He frames portraits and landscapes, almost-abstractions and pure color. His “streets” over the course of a career have included Paris catwalks, Hutterite living rooms, Nevada chuckwagons, Peruvian slaughterhouses, Brazilian brothels and Indian sewers. You can find echoes in Allard’s work of Robert Frank (if he’d shot The Americans in color), and street-shooting pioneer Henri Cartier-Bresson (a 1967 tableau of boys playing ball in France). A few of his photos could be passingly confused for the work of contemporaries like Peter Brown (a luminous Winifred, Mont., homestead), or Annie Leibovitz (the uncannily illuminated Wyoming range detective Ed Cantrell). But none of the occasional touchstones is much to the point.

His photos are about what they’re of. The self-portrait they imply shows a photographer with an eye open to any possibility of color, character and composition that might wander through his view. A picture with the cool formal rigor of “Minor league spring training, Phoenix, Arizona, 1990” has little in common with the warm grainy blur of Allard’s prostitute portraits, which have little in common with the grin on bandleader Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown’s face as he finishes a set in Memphis. What they do have in common is that Allard was there, open and equal to the moment. Sitting in a French cafe watching the girls smoke or tromping through cornstubble with Iowa birdhunters, Allard, more than anything else, is receptive.

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