Ian Allen

 
When Ian Allen learned that the
storied Bethlehem steel mill in eastern Pennsylvania was going to be
turned into a 126-acre casino and entertainment complex, he
couldn’t resist making the trip. Allen, a low-key Seattle native
who has traveled the world in search of good stories, sneaked in with
his friend Jeremy Blakeslee three different times to take pictures, and
each visit was an adventure: jumping train tracks, hopping fences, and
hiding in bushes from security guards.

The results of these risky
photo outings—Blakeslee had been caught on a previous trip and
charged with trespassing—are surprisingly subdued. The cavernous
images have a mournful air; one can feel the staleness in the place. In
some shots, the abandoned machinery looms as if it were wounded. The
photos capture what is absent as much as what remains. Allen’s
experience shooting at the steel mill reflects an adventurous and
open-minded spirit that informs all of his work, whether it’s
photography or design.

“I think he represents the idea of what
‘new visual artist’ means,” says Tracy Boychuk,
principal of New York design firm Trooper, which produces Stop
Smiling
magazine. Boychuk discovered Allen in a class she taught at
the School of Visual Arts in New York, where he had enrolled after
moving to the city from Seattle. Allen had already taken a handful of
design classes at School of Visual Concepts in his hometown and served a
stint coding web sites for interactive ad agency Think Inc. It was at
Think that Allen, while working with art directors, realized he was
destined for more than churning out code. “I wanted to be doing
what they were doing, coming up with ideas and implementing them,”
he says.

At SVA, Boychuk encouraged him to use his photography in his
design work and eventually offered him a spot at Trooper.

He has since
developed two creative selves, splitting his time between the two
disciplines. “I like both sides,” he says. “Design is
me sitting here listening to music in my pajamas—if I want to
be—while working on stuff. It’s an introverted thing.
Photography gets you out meeting people, traveling around, seeing
things.”

He draws on the experience of a recent trip to Asia,
where he shot a busy, technologically advanced part of Tokyo and
contrasted it with a rural location in Tibet. “The contrast was
intentional. Beijing was interesting in that it was the greatest clash
of the old and the new,” he says.

While his fingerprints are all
over his photography, his design touch is unobtrusive. Allen has art
directed numerous issues of Stop Smiling the last three years;
and he designed American Illustration 25 with a strong respect
for the content, marking it gently with a series of timeline-related
dots that expand across the bottom of the book. This duality defines his
work. The photographer in him can analyze information from several
angles, while his design side invents a visual system to explain it all.

At the moment, he dreams of shooting both the Sahara and the Canadian
Nunavut territory. “At this point in my career, I’d rather
be stuffing my portfolio and wait to stuff my wallet later, if
ever,” he says. “I’m trying to avoid the
ever-increasing salary-equals-success mentality that young designers can
get trapped in.”

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