The work of local photographer Bill Owens will be featured in “Suburbia Re-Visited,” a new exhibit in the Gallery at the Bankhead Theater opening in May. A former staff photographer for The Independent newspaper in the late 1960s, Owens gained worldwide attention with his book Suburbia in 1972 and its reflection of the changes emerging in American daily life. His photography now resides in the permanent collection of prestigious museums and galleries around the globe. “Suburbia Re-Visited” will be on display in the Gallery at the Bankhead Theater, 2400 First Street in downtown Livermore, from May 2 through June 25, 2018.
An opening reception for “Suburbia Re-Visited” and book signing with Bill Owens will be held on Friday evening, May 18th from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. The lobby will be decorated in retro 1960s suburban style for the reception and guests are encouraged to attend dressed for the theme. Owens’ photographs will fill the Gallery and adjacent spaces will feature works by local photographers that express a modern-day interpretation of Owens’ suburban viewpoint. The reception is sponsored in part by the Pleasanton Cultural Arts Council. Both the exhibit and reception are free and open to the public.
Bill Owens was first introduced to photography while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer. He studied at San Francisco State College and was hired in 1968 as a staff photographer for The Independent newspaper in Livermore. His fascination with the people and lifestyles he encountered while on assignment led him to explore the subject further through self-assigned personal shoots on the weekends. Some of the people he photographed he met through his work at The Independent, some were relatives and friends, and others were people who responded to advertisements he placed seeking people amenable to being photographed at home.
Suburbia, published in 1972, met with immediate success and has sold over 50,000 copies in three editions. It has been recognized as one of the 101 most important photography books of the twentieth century for its keen observation of middle-class America. Owens had recorded a generational phenomenon: the rapid migration of inner-city apartment dwellers to affordable, newly-produced homes in the outskirts of the city. He realized that this wasn't simply a demographic shift, but a psychological one. Social critics had mocked the suburbs for their apparent conformity and spiritual emptiness, but Owens respected the liberation that many suburbanites felt and their determination to build better lives. Over the time he spent with them, he got to know them and discovered their devotion to the American dream— “three kids, the dog, the station wagon, the boat,” as he puts it. The photos he made for himself, and then shared with the world, were portraits that reflected that dream.
Owens’ works have found their way into private collections and numerous museums across the US and throughout Europe, including the Museum of Modern Art in both New York and San Francisco. He subsequently issued two sequels, Our Kind of People in 1975 and Working (I Do it for the Money) in 1977, earning praise as a “keen and sympathetic observer of the daily rituals of life amid tract homes” from The Los Angeles Times. Owens’ books will be available for sale at the “Suburbia Re-Visited” reception on May 18. For more information on the work of Bill Owens visit www.billowens.com
This is the second major photography exhibit at the Bankhead Gallery, following last year’s “The Golden Decade,” which featured post-WWII era photography of the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute), one of the first fine art photography departments in the US. Part of the Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center, the Gallery is located in the lobby of the Bankhead Theater at 2400 First Street, Livermore. It will be open for this exhibit on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays from 12 noon to 4:00 pm except on performance days. Admission is free. More information is available online at bothwell.lvpac.org.