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Photographer of Amish, Bill Coleman, Leaves Special Legacy

by on February 08, 2014 8:10 AM

As a child, Noah Coleman's father pulled him out of school and took him on an adventure in an international classroom.

"We were able to spend time together to see things sort of through his lens. Looking at other people in their habitats. ... He was very dedicated and interested me in being a critical thinker," Noah says.

Noah's father, Bill Coleman, is known for his photography, particularly his famous shots of the Amish community. As a father, Bill Coleman made efforts to teach his son to look for beauty in the mundane and to understand and appreciate other cultures.

Father and son traveled the world, spending a couple of months in Europe and more time in South America.

From local Amish farmers to city dwellers in Buenos Aires, "he was really interested in exposing me to other cultures," Noah says.

Bill Coleman, a legendary photographer and longtime State College resident, died Jan. 28. He was 88. The family is expected to hold a public memorial service in the spring.

Born May 17, 1925 in Connecticut and raised in New York City, Bill Coleman served as an infantryman in World War II and was a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany. After the war, he attended Penn State University where he studied English. He then attended Rochester Institute of Technology for graduate work.

In 1951, Bill Coleman opened his first studio in State College where he shot portraits for more than 30 years. In addition to international, cultural photography, he shot iconic photos of the Amish community over a 40 year period.

"I think photography for him was very much a way for him to interpret the world and a way for him to remake it," Noah says. "I hope his legacy is that people will take time to notice the mundane, the beautiful mundaneness of a cloud, of a field, and take a moment and reflect on that – or the beauty of a child's face, something that we see and take for granted."

Bill Coleman was able to work closely with the Amish, a community rarely photographed due to religious beliefs.

Jock Lauterer, senior lecturer of photojournalism at the University of North Carolina and former Penn State journalism professor, says Bill Coleman's images of the Amish "are honest, poignant, intimate and heartbreakingly lovely all at once, while still being authentic."

Lauterer added, "One looks at his work and wonders how such a master photographer gained the respect and access of such a community. That, in and of itself, set him apart and above so many others who have gone before him and have stereotyped the Amish. Coleman's images don't stereotype they dignify and preserve a way of life, rich in the fabric of our land."

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for StateCollege.com. She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government. jenn.miller@statecollege.com
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