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Leisure

Published in 2004; Bill Owens, Foreword by Sofia Coppola, Introduction by Gregory Crewdson, Edited by Robert Harshorn Shimshak; Fotofolio (Publisher);

The following review first appeared in Issue 2, 2005 of The Picture Professional, the quarterly magazine of the American Society of Picture Professionals, www.aspp.com. ASPP is a community of image experts committed to sharing our experience and knowledge throughout the industry.

Review by Susan Soroko / ASPP:

There is no sense that Bill Owens would seem like an intruder if he showed up to photograph a day or a moment in anyone's life. His work could easily be the raw files of today's reality TV shows. Without the need to attract advertisers, Owens has no obvious pretense. He could be a voyeur, observer, artist, chronicler, visual historian or participant and be seamless in any scene he came upon.

Set throughout the 1970s, Owens' photography builds on a compilation first published in a book, Suburbia, in 1973. He continued on his quest to capture American life in the 1970s with three more books; Leisure being the volume that completes the set. Perhaps hindsight is the most relevant ingredient in providing insight to a decade caught in a warp between "Leave it to Beaver" and "Bay Watch." Yet these photographs, these "take a peek" moments, have become a cultural vantage point, influencing contemporary artists such as Sofia Coppola, who credits his photography as visual reference in her filmmaking.

In his Introduction, Gregory Crewdson prompts the viewer to see the book under his heading "Particular Kind of Strangeness." He notes the contrasts that are ever present in the collection of images that "oscillate between irony and admiration, absurdity and sadness, and truth and fiction." What's also compelling, I think, is that Owens strips away the layer of ideals that many people attempt to reveal when standing in front of a camera. With Bill Owens behind the camera, there's no place to hide. On pages 90 and 91, for example, the left page shows a black-and-white photo of a young, attractive, well-groomed woman getting out of a car and facing the camera in perfect poise, while on the right-hand page is a color photograph of an older woman whistling as she rides a bike, oblivious to her questionable fashion choice of tube top and mini skirt. We all hope she's no one's mother.

Nothing, and everything, is sacred in Owens Leisure world. He gives no deference to age or gender. People and settings are his props and he treats them with equal reverence and defamation. He doesn't worship at the altar of beautiful lighting or exceptional composition. The life he observes shows 1970's Americans living in a culture they both covet and defy. His cover (and opening photograph) is something of a quintessential self-portrait of himself and his work. There he stands at the barbecue where his family camps in Yosemite. In the background we see a picnic table set with checkered tablecloth and candelabras. Serving burgers on a table set with silver, and darn proud of it, is what you'll get in Bill Owens Leisure.


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