Photography: The Man who Loved Autumn and Children

By Paul Levine

Unlike most of my posts, this is not about crime fiction or mysteries or legal thrillers.  There will not be a homicide, a kidnapping, or a murder trial.

This is about a photographer who loved autumn and loved children, and over many decades, formed bonds with strangers who ordinarily distrusted outsiders, the people they called “the English.”

Bill Coleman, a legendary photographer in Pennsylvania, died last week at 88.  He leaves behind family and friends and a treasure trove of photography.  Specifically, his legacy contains thousands of images of an Amish village and the people who inhabit it. As the obituary in the Centre Daily Times put it:

“He became known internationally for his Amish images: buggies on tree-shaded lanes, children playing in schoolyards, young men walking in a cluster down a road. Throughout his long and successful career, starting with his first State College studio in 1951, he strove to capture the essence of people — from the student and local resident portraits of his early years to the Amish and European scenes that defined his later work.”

Photography: forming a bond
Bill Coleman and an Amish child, the subject of many of his photographs

I’ve known Bill for more than 30 years. In 1985, he snapped this photo of my son Mike and me on the Penn State campus.

Photography: Father & Son
Paul Levine, Class of 1969, and Michael Levine, Class of 2003, at Penn State

One day after the photo was taken, Penn State would defeat Alabama 19-7 in football and go on to an undefeated regular season that would end with a heartbreaking loss to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.

Photography as Art

But, just as this post is not about books, it’s also not about football or nostalgia or my family. It’s about a warm and generous and immensely talented man. His photography was truly art.

I own several of Bill’s Amish photographs, including this one from his “barn-raising” series.

Photography: A Barn-Raising
All in a Day’s Work. Amish villagers using only hand tools build a barn.

Yes, the photo calls to mind the Harrison Ford movie, “Witness,”set in Pennsylvania’s Amish country. For an excellent synopsis of “Witness,” which was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won two, check out the Wikipedia article here.

I have many favorites among Bill’s photos. There’s this iconic shot of three barefoot Amish girls skipping along a dirt road.

Photography: Three Amish Girls
You can almost hear the girls singing as they skip along.

Then there is the Amish village in the snow.

Photography: The Village in Winter
The Village in Winter

Photography That Stirs Emotions

Perhaps Bill’s best known photograph is “Fall Splendor.” I never tire of looking at it. The photo provokes nostalgia and a yearning for simpler times.

Photography as Art
Photography as Art: One of Bill Coleman’s Iconic shots.

I think Bill loved Autumn more than any other season. His photo of the hills ablaze with colors — and cows in the foreground — reminds me so much of my early years growing up in central Pennsylvania.

Photography: Autumn Colors
The Hills in Autumn

Most of all, Bill loved the kids. This photo is simply titled “Sharing.”

Photography: Sharing
It’s not a painting; it’s a Bill Coleman photograph.

Bill even loved the rowdy kids, who might, on occasion, playfully shoot him the bird. Yes, even Amish kids!

Photography: Shooting the bird
Even Amish kids can show a little rebellion.

You can check out all of Bill Coleman’s photography on his website, which is aptly titled, Amish Photos.

Paul Levine

Paul Levine

Paul Levine

PAUL LEVINE has won the John D. MacDonald fiction award and was nominated for the Edgar, Macavity, International Thriller, Shamus and James Thurber prizes. He wrote 20 episodes of the CBS military drama “JAG” and co-created the Supreme Court drama “First Monday” starring James Garner and Joe Mantegna. “To Speak for the Dead,” an international bestseller featuring lawyer Jake Lassiter, was his first novel. He is also the author of the “Solomon vs. Lord” series. His latest novels are "Bum Rap," a Amazon Number One Bestseller, "Bum Luck" and "Bum Deal." His forthcoming novel is “Cheater’s Game,” in which Lassiter dives deep into the college admissions scandal. A graduate of Penn State and the University of Miami School of Law, he divides his time between Santa Barbara, CA and Miami, FL.
Paul Levine
Paul Levine

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