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BILL OWENS | 'SUBURBIA'
May 1st 2020
American photographer Bill Owens dedicated his early career to documenting the suburban bliss of America. Working as a photojournalist, the artist was invited into the homes of hundreds of families, giving an extraordinary glimpse into their rooms, lives and culture; often different, but also very familiar to his own. His book ‘Suburbia’ (1972) quickly rose to acclaim earning him the Guggenheim Fellowship - and led to three further books about suburban America between 1975 and 2004. The significance of Owens work is testimony to the American Dream and the importance of our day-to-day lives. A relevant theme half a century later in the midst of a global pandemic.
by Henrik Riis
NEWS FROM EYESTORM
While many people were achieving American Dream during the post-war decades, it was also a tumultuous time. The Cold War was at its peak and the East and the West was ever-more divided. The world was holding its breath during the Cuba-crises in the summer of ’62; the Vietnam War was escalating; President J.F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas; and within ten years, President Nixon would resign for his involvement and cover-up of the break-in at the Democratic National Committee in Washington D.C. Geographically caught in the middle was a European continent with its own struggles; violent political fractions and an economic recession kick-started by the oil crises in the mid-seventies. Amid of the upheaval, the news on TV seemed far away from the day-to-day routines in the suburbs of the Western world; the lawn still needed to be mowed, the grocery shopping had to be done - and one had to keep up with the neighbours.

Owens himself grew up in suburban America. More precisely in Citrus Heights in the outskirts of Sacramento, 75 miles north-east of San Francisco, California. With a population of less than twenty thousand it represented a typical and rapidly growing town in rural America, shaped by fast new developments of detached houses with the neat lawns, the garages and the curtained windows.
BILL OWENS
House 421 (1970), 2000

Edition of 250
35(w) x 28(h) cm
13.78(w) x 11.02(h) inches
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Bill Owens (American, b. 1938)
35(w) x 28(h) cm
13.78(w) x 11.02(h) inches
Gelatin silver print

Image size: 12 x 8 in

Signed and numbered on verso

Only 20 printed of the edition of 250.
Edition of 250
PRICE
$ 570.00
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Find art trends here >
In his early twenties, Owens decided to hitchhike around the world and then volunteered in the Peace Corps in ’61 with his wife, spending two years in Jamaica. One day a photographer came to the village to document their life as teachers in the local school. Owens observed the visitor and quickly concluded “I can do that” - and photography became his lifelong passion. The photos from Jamaica, shot with his first camera, witness the early steps of a self-taught photographer gifted with an incredible talent.

After returning home, he continued his studies at Chico State College (now California State University) and later graduated with a degree in photography from San Francisco State College. Owens’ natural flair for creating a narrative within the frame landed him a job for ‘The Independent’; a local newspaper in the town of Livermore on the eastern edge of the San Francisco Bay Area. Owens appreciated working for the paper, giving him the opportunity to improve his skills every day. His job as a photojournalist was to support the written stories in the newspaper with photographic material, documenting the daily local news in and around Livermore; a portrait of a business celebrating an anniversary, a new product line from a local manufacturer, a school play - or the winner of the beauty contest.

Pinto and Maid of Livermore is a delightful example of Owens’ photojournalism covering the latter story. In this archetypical photo to support a newspaper article, the smiling “Maid of Livermore 1971” is posing in front of the new Ford Pinto, holding a brochure of “The 1972 Fords” to promote a local car dealership.
BILL OWENS
Pinto and Maid of Livermore (1971), 2001

Edition of 250
35(w) x 28(h) cm
13.78(w) x 11.02(h) inches
MAKE AN OFFER
Art is about talking with each other and via ‘Make an Offer’ you can have a direct conversation with us and suggest a price for this artwork.
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Bill Owens (American, b. 1938)
35(w) x 28(h) cm
13.78(w) x 11.02(h) inches
Gelatin silver print

Image size: 12 x 8 in

Signed and numbered on verso

Only 20 printed of the edition of 250.
Edition of 250
PRICE
$ 570.00
MAKE AN OFFER
Find art trends here >
In the fall of ’68 the artist started spending weekends photographing friends in their homes, people he had visited as photographer from The Independent - and others found via classified ads. This led slowly to his first book ‘Suburbia’ (1972). Influenced by Dorothea Lange, an American documentary photographer known for her chronicles of the Great Depression in the 1930s and an advocator for social change, Owens had an ambition to create an anthropological record of the good life in suburbia.

As a photojournalist, the artist was often invited into people’s homes and saw how each of them had realised the American Dream and welcomed the suburban lifestyle. Owens later commented that what he observed was proud homeowners living a life very differently - and at the same time very very familiar to his own. From the thousands of photographs shot during the three years that followed, the subject matter covered themes related to the suburban living and the consumerism of the new America.
BILL OWENS
Family in Grocery Store (1970), 2000

Edition of 250
28(w) x 35(h) cm
11.02(w) x 13.78(h) inches
MAKE AN OFFER
Art is about talking with each other and via ‘Make an Offer’ you can have a direct conversation with us and suggest a price for this artwork.
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Bill Owens (American, b. 1938)
28(w) x 35(h) cm
11.02(w) x 13.78(h) inches
Gelatin silver print

Image size: 9 x 11.5 in

Signed and numbered on verso

Only 20 printed of the edition of 250.
Edition of 250
PRICE
$ 570.00
MAKE AN OFFER
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In Family in Grocery Store, Owens comments on the consumerism within society. Here, a family of three with a full shopping cart of chosen brands; Bold washing powder and Maxwell House coffee. Conveniently standing under the slogan “Every Body Needs Milk”, as the father positions the carton of milk, slightly angled towards Owens.

In other works, the artist covers the everyday social interactions. A boy playing in the street on his tricycle with a plastic rifle, a school board meeting - or a woman presenting at a Tupperware home-party to her friends. Owens’ courage to choose themes that other artists find banal is a main reason for his acclaimed work, showing the nuanced and odd angles of suburbia. Some of his works simply show the front of the house as in House 421, the house décor - or the contents of a fridge.

As a visual commentator of his generation, his work ranges from indoor close-ups to the impact of migration in the natural landscape. Overview subtly and quietly shows how the expansion spreads into the surrounding fields of Livermore; a re-settlement of America, this time by urbanites aspiring to a new life away from the crowded inner cities.
BILL OWENS
Backyard with Pool (1981), 2000

Edition of 250
40(w) x 50(h) cm
15.94(w) x 19.88(h) inches
MAKE AN OFFER
Art is about talking with each other and via ‘Make an Offer’ you can have a direct conversation with us and suggest a price for this artwork.
Your Offer *
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Bill Owens (American, b. 1938)
40(w) x 50(h) cm
15.94(w) x 19.88(h) inches
C-type print

Image size: 12 x 18 in

Signed and numbered on verso

Only 20 printed of the edition of 250.
Edition of 250
PRICE
$ 570.00
MAKE AN OFFER
Find art trends here >
Though Hillside with Toy Horse and Backyard with Pool were shot two decades after his first book, and in colour, they are fascinating as they depict scenes of everyday life witnessed from a distance; the toy-horse in the corner of the empty garden and the BBQ next to the custom-shaped pool. As with all Owens’ work there is an overwhelming sense of nostalgia for anyone who had a suburban upbringing, regardless of where in the world they lived.

The success of the book ‘Suburbia’, which quickly sold more than 50,000 copies, did not come from a photographer documenting someone else’s life, it came from Owens portraying people from his local area living lives similar to his own. Despite social critics mocking the suburbs for their apparent conformity and spiritual emptiness, Owens respected the liberation many suburbanites felt, creating a chronicle of the determination to build better lives.

Owens published three additional books after ‘Suburbia’. In ‘Our Kind of People’ (1975), the artist recorded how communities quickly come together in smaller groups of like-minded people. Toastmasters, Lion’s Club or League of Women Voters were all societies and clubs which the new “suburban settlers” took along with them. In 1977 he published ‘Working’, a book primarily focusing on small business owners and their staff in the workplace, their hopes and dreams of the future.
BILL OWENS
Overview (1971), 2000

Edition of 250
35(w) x 28(h) cm
13.78(w) x 11.02(h) inches
MAKE AN OFFER
Art is about talking with each other and via ‘Make an Offer’ you can have a direct conversation with us and suggest a price for this artwork.
Your Offer *
Name *
Email *
Phone number *
Any Comment? *
* Required fields
Bill Owens (American, b. 1938)
35(w) x 28(h) cm
13.78(w) x 11.02(h) inches
Gelatin silver print

Image size: 12 x 9 in

Signed and numbered on verso

Only 20 printed of the edition of 250.
Edition of 250
PRICE
$ 570.00
MAKE AN OFFER
Find art trends here >
An important theme that goes through all Owens’ work is the pride of the people he photographed, something which is carried over in the captures, written by his subjects, next to many of the photos in his books.

Bill Owens belongs to a small group of photographers who has made a significant contribution to American rural photography, recording a generational phenomenon. His works have been exhibited widely since the seventies and are held in more than thirty prestigious private and museum collections around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum, Whitney Museum of Amercican Art in New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. In 1976 he received the Guggenheim Fellowship in recognition of his book ‘Suburbia’. Owens continues to live in California, spending time on his other life passion: brewing beer.

Six photographic editions were released in an exclusive collaboration between Bill Owens and Eyestorm in 2000. The four monochrome gelatin silver prints, Family in Grocery Store, House 421, Pinto and Maid of Livermore and Overview are all from the body of work leading to the publication of ground-breaking book ‘Suburbia’ in 1972. Two C-type print photographs, Backyard with Pool and Hillside with Toy Horse, are later works in colour. Only 20 of each edition, originally planned as editions of 250 each, were printed and signed by Bill Owens and numbered on verso.

You can find more information about the six photographic editions by Bill Owens on his artist page here.
BILL OWENS
Hillside with Toy Horse (1981), 2000

Edition of 250
40(w) x 50(h) cm
15.94(w) x 19.88(h) inches
MAKE AN OFFER
Art is about talking with each other and via ‘Make an Offer’ you can have a direct conversation with us and suggest a price for this artwork.
Your Offer *
Name *
Email *
Phone number *
Any Comment? *
* Required fields
Bill Owens (American, b. 1938)
40(w) x 50(h) cm
15.94(w) x 19.88(h) inches
C-type print

Image size: 12 x 18 in

Signed and numbered on verso

Only 20 printed of the edition of 250.
Edition of 250
PRICE
$ 570.00
MAKE AN OFFER
Find art trends here >
 
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