American, born 1938
Born in San Jose California in 1938, Bill Owens made his mark photographing the campy cultural life of his neighbors. His work has become a landmark chronicle of the mid-century suburban explosion and a seminal influence for an entire generation of American photographers.
In the late sixties, Bill Owens began photographing his friends and neighbors in suburban Livermore, California, and soon embarked upon an ambitious photographic project to capture the complexities of life in the burgeoning American suburbs. Owens’ job as a photographer for The Livermore Independent, a Bay Area newspaper, and later freelancing for publications such as Life and Newsweek, provided him additional access to all facets of life in other nearby communities. Over the course of a decade Owens completed four photographic series, each focusing on different elements of the suburban existence, such as home and family, social organizations, and the workplace. Collectively, the photographs reveal a highly subjective and complex narrative viewpoint. Quotidian settings like the home, the yard, the club, the workplace or the vacation spot serve as backdrops in which small events are played out in front of the camera.
Owens gained significant recognition as a photographer with the 1972 publication of his first book Suburbia, an intimate look at the rise of the suburban American dream, which achieved cult status and later gained recognition as one the most influential contemporary photography books of the twentieth century. Indeed, the widespread influence of Owens’ photographs can be seen in the work of countless contemporary artists, from noted photographers such as Gregory Crewdson, to filmmakers and writers working in seemingly unrelated mediums. As Crewdson concludes in his introduction to Leisure: “for a generation of artists, Bill Owens’ photographs define the iconography of the 1970s. The Suburbia series has become part of our cultural lexicon.”
Owens’ work has been exhibited at many of the world’s finest museums and is included in the collections of Museum of Modern Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; National Museum of American Art, Washington D.C.; Bibliotheque Nationale de Paris, among others. His publications include Leisure (Fotofolio, 2004), Suburbia: New and Improved (Fotofolio, 1999), Working: I Do It For The Money (Simon and Schuster, 1976), Our Kind of People (Straight Arrow Books, 1974), and Suburbia (Straight Arrow Books, 1972). He was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship in 1976, and two National Endowment for the Arts awards. In 1982 he founded Buffalo Bill’s Brewery and published American Brewer Magazine.