Alumnus profile

A new lense

by Jesse Tuel

Photos by Richard Mallory Allnutt '91, '03

quotation markCinematographer Tony Henniger sets up the first shot on the first day of shooting 'The Distance,' an independent feature film which went on to win best drama at the New York Independent Film Festival in 2000. This was one of the first five shots, of 100 rolls I took over the six weeks of the shoot. It was my first real experience as a professional photographer, but this shot convinced me that I was meant to be a photographer. It quite literally changed my life."

A frozen cemetery at dawn is an unlikely place to be warm.

But Richard Mallory Allnutt was plenty warm.

Hired as a set photographer for a friend's independent film in 2000, Allnutt (M.S. electrical engineering '91, Ph.D. '03) took a leave of absence from his job in satellite communications to spend an immersive six weeks documenting the production and observing the film's people, everyone from actors to the "rough-and-ready" crew members, waiting for new emotions to cross their faces. "You really see right inside a person. You see the beauty in everyone," Allnutt said. "That was electrifying."

In the Indianapolis cemetery, as he snapped the first few photographs of the assignment, Allnutt wasn't bothered by the chill — because he knew then that he was meant to be a photographer. "That one image changed my life," he said.

Today, Allnutt straddles three fields: engineering, photography, and writing. As a freelance engineer, he helps design spacecraft antenna feeds — mostly for commercial vehicles, though he did have a small role on NASA's Dawn probe. An expert on airplanes and aviation history, he has written and shot photos for hundreds of articles for aviation publications. And his reputation as an award-winning photographer, one with rare versatility, is growing.

Comparing the three disciplines, Allnutt notices more similarities than differences. All three require great creativity and the ability to step back to observe elements working together. They also require specificity: An engineer doesn't use unnecessary parts, just as the photographer or writer avoids clutter. Said Allnutt, "In writing, you can't just paint wildly with adjectives."

A Blacksburg resident — at least when he's not traveling for assignments — Allnutt finds the hectic nature of his work deeply satisfying. "It's a constant challenge to solve problems," he said. "And it's always different."

Richard Mallory Allnutt | Photography & Digital Imaging →

  • Branford Marsalis photo shoot for JazzTimes magazine cover and story (October 2004)

    photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt

    "This particular shot wasn't used in the article, but it's one of my favourites. Branford had had a busy schedule, and he was tired. We'd already done five locations inside an hour. The editor of JazzTimes, Chris Porter, had an ace up his sleeve, though, and just at the moment that Branford was about to say "time," Chris pulled out these NFL sports cards from the 70s with all of Branford's favourite New Orleans Saints players. Branford was amazed — and finally relaxed. This image was captured shortly after that moment. I took the shot looking through the glass of a storefront window, with a circular polarizer to get the reflections just right … needed manual focus, though, as the auto was completely confused! Shot at small Ferrari-owned interior design store on lower Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown, Washington, D.C."

  • Lila (June 2009) Yorktown, Virginia

    photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt

    "Just two hours old, Lila meets her big brother for the first time."

  • "Lightning strikes near the (now-closed) coal-fired power plant in Masontown, Pennsylvania, as seen from across the valley in Morgantown, West Virginia." (May 10, 2011)

    photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt
  • Fireworks and a full moon over the capital and the Ottawa River on Canada Day
    (July 1, 2012)

    "This image won first place in the regional focus category at FotoWeekDC 2013 and was displayed for a month at the National Geographic Building in Washington, D.C."

    photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt
  • Frazer Lake, Kodiak Island, Alaska (July 2006)

    "Two Kodiak bear cubs huddle in desperation after becoming separated from their mother."

    photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt
  • Frazer Lake, Kodiak Island, Alaska (July 2006)

    "In search of her missing cubs, a Kodiak bear foams at the mouth and sniffs the air loudly. It was an unnerving moment for us all, lying down on a small rise just 30 feet away."

    photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt
  • Eastern Oregon (August 2015)

    "A P-38 Lightning banks sharply 3,000 feet above the high desert near the town of Madras. Several forest fires were burning locally, and you can see smoke rising on the ridgeline to the right."

    photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt
  • Allnutt flying a World War II-era B-25 Mitchell bomber on the way to Kennedy Space Center
    (November 2008)

    photo of Richard Mallory Allnutt