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You Are The Color Of The World

Bill Allard
Bill Allard

For the last several years, Robert Stubblefield has invited me to talk about The Write Question with students in one of the classes he teaches at the University of Montana. We talk about specific The Write Question programs students have listened to. Then I answer questions about the process of reading, interviewing, and creating programs for radio and the Web. I also invite each of them to send me an essay they've written in response to a writer they read during the semester.

The following response to Bill Allard's photography and stories was written by Amberly Hu, a Chinese exchange student.


As contemplated by average college students, sitting in front their computers and leafing through tons of the homework and the reading materials for next week, Sundays seem like nothing but exhausted eyes and overfilled coffees.

And it was just one of those days. I was running my fingers across the textbook page, trying every means to keep my brain working. The Sophist? The scientific approach of Aristotle? The levels of knowledge? No idea. As I looked up every word in there, however, I still failed to understand what they were talking about; struggling was the last thing I felt like doing. So I logged onto Moodle to finish the pre-reading for the next Montana Writers’ Live course, while the photo website of Bill Allard shattered light into my slightly opened eyes.

It took me nearly ten minutes to finish looking at the first three photos. Of them, one was a woman in a black veil—so different, so similar, so devastatingly, inhumanly beautiful. It was a face you never expect to see except on the airbrushed page of a restored painting. Another was a boy with tanned skin and honey blond hair, standing in the rye in front of a tractor, holding two pieces of bitten pies and staring at me, like an ancient pagoda frowning on the mountainside. The third one, named bird hunters, was a photo of a boundless rice field and flickering golden brown.

I finally met Bill Allard in person the other day in the Montana Writers’ Live class. He read to us some of the narratives he wrote decades ago, telling the stories of his work with National Geographic Magazine, his love for the west, his passion, his adventures, and his relationships with collaborators. ”In my photography,” he said :” color and composition are inseparable. I see in color.”

Then I looked him over again, in color. He was wearing a beige cowboy hat, a tan vest, and a black camera that hung from his neck, resting on his chest. Suddenly, for no reason, delusion seemed to come to me. I began to see the boy’s tanned skin appearing on his vest, like a hard beast leather covering the brave heart of a warrior.    

The black camera seemed to look like the dark black eye of a mysterious woman, swaying poetically.  And the cowboy hat, light brown in color, carried the image of that rice field, delivering the obscure sound from the blue sky above, “Montana. I’m home. I’m free.”

When somebody asked me before, “ Why would you want to be a photographer?” I always felt it was too big of a question to answer. But on the day I met Bill Allard, I found an answer. Because photographers paint the world in color, narrate it in poetry, turn it into photos and most importantly, carry the photos with them. They travel thousands of miles away from home for a blink of an eye, not just to record it, but to become it—the shadows the light, the ocean the sky, the people with deferent minds… They become the color of the world.

There’s a old Chinese saying that goes: “?????????“, meaning that we need to not only read books to gain knowledge, but we also need to get out of our books and go on a journey to experience the real world. We may be knowledgeable enough to have a Plato or Aristotle living in our heart, but we won’t know ourselves and what made us who we are without looking at the colorful world with our own eyes and hearts.

“Words and pictures can work together to communicate more powerfully than either alone,” I remembered Bill saying, “All I need is in my brain, my eyes and my personality, for better or for worse.”

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Author Bio:

Amberly Hu

Ambery Hu is a Chinese exchange student in the University of Montana. Born and bred in the city of Shanghai, Missoula amazed her with its fascinating landscape and flourishing art and literature. The creative writing program provided her with not only improvements on the use of English language, but also inspirations and insights from Professor Stubblefield and every speaker she has encountered. Finding herself interested in photography and writing, she wants to become a photojournalist in the future.

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