“In my photography, color and composition are inseparable. I see in color.” ~ William Albert Allard
Always in color. American documentary photographer William Albert Allard has always shot in color; many contemporary photographers move back and forth from color to black and white. Allard began his documentary career at National Geographic in 1964, a “major force” at that magazine for 50 years. Allard will give a special presentation at the National Museum of Wildlife Art (NMWA) on Friday, October 26, at 6:30 pm; doors open at 5:30 pm. The event christens the museum’s exhibit “National Geographic Greatest Photographs of the American West.” Open to the public, tickets are $5, free to museum members. The American West photography exhibition officially opens October 27th at NMWA and at nine other museums across the U.S., including the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C.
Allard’s “American Indian Beauty Pageant Winner, Oregon, 1997,” above, blows me away. My assumption was that this young woman, Acosia Red Elk, was attending an all-Indian gathering. A bit of research told me otherwise; National Geographic published an article in September, 1999, entitled Rodeos: Behind the Chutes. Acosia Red Elk is part of that year’s Pendleton Round-Up Rodeo; Indians are sometimes rodeo cowboys. She awaits the rodeo parade’s start.
Cultural pride is evident in this photograph, as are the physical and artistic tangibles of Acosia Red Elk’s people. She is beautiful, powerful. Allard frames the diagonals of her headdress feathers and teepees; depth of field, the rich colors of Indian beading and design and a darkening, stormy sky move my eye around the image. And they move my heart. Pride of history and place are evident throughout this exhibition.
“Greatest Photographs of the American West” has been four years in the planning. NMWA’s President and CEO James C. McNutt (by many accounts the brains behind this exhibition) initiated talks with Rich Clarkson, former National Geographic Director of Photography and producer of NMWA’s annual “Photography at the Summit” workshops, about mounting the show.
“All the photographers are National Geographic photographers,” says McNutt. We pitched the idea to Museums West, and we received funding from the San Antonio based Mays Family Foundation. Curator of Art Dr. Adam Harris has also had a big hand in organizing this show, and much of the work has taken place over the last year and a half.” McNutt wrote the introduction to the exhibit’s official companion book that chronicles the largest simultaneous museum opening of its kind in the U.S.
“Sifting through thousands of images and working back and forth through the pages of National Geographic magazine, it is easy to wander and burrow down into a particular photograph,” writes McNutt. “How fascinating to see the first published halftones of American wilderness or to wonder how a photographer managed to capture the golden curve of a grainfield harvest or the brilliant eye of an eagle.”
A “Sneak Peek” with Jim McNutt takes place at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, October 26th. He will discuss the four years preparation for the show and introduce visitors to the 75 iconic images at the Museum. Tickets are included in the Museum’s $12 admission fee, and are free for members. Additionally, activities around the subjects of photography and media will take place on October 27th, 10:00 am to 2:00 pm. The aforementioned activities include loaning out Polaroid cameras and taking instant pics along NMWA’s new sculpture trail, the chance to hang your own “American West” photographs in a “pop-up exhibition,” and lessons on uploading images to social media’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
A dedicated website for the show and its accompanying book will feature images, photographer interviews and a host of interactive features. The site, www.photographsofthewest.org, will be available soon. The exhibition remains on display at NMWA through April 28, 2013. www.wildlifeart.org