Bill Owens

(1938) American


Born in 1938, Owens first became interested in photography while working as a Peace Corps volunteer in Jamaica. On his return to the United States in 1966, he enrolled in a visual anthropology course in San Francisco and began taking pictures. Starting as a documentarian, Owens was particularly drawn to the work of the 1930s documentary photographers of the Farm Security Administration (FSA), such as Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans.
In 1967 Owens landed a job as the staff photographer on a local newspaper, the Livermore Independent. From Monday to Friday he worked in 35mm, recording the town’s goings-on, and on Saturdays he shot his personal images with a Pentax 6x7 and a Brooks Veriwide 6x9. While working full-time for the paper, he began making the first photographs for the Suburbia series, working from a well-defined shooting script. Some of his subjects were people he had photographed for the Independent; some were relatives and friends; some were people who responded to the advertisements Owens placed, looking for people who would be amenable to being photographed at home.
When it was published in 1972, Owens’ Suburbia sold a staggering 50,000 copies in three editions. It has since been recognized as one of the 101 most important photography books of the twentieth century. Owens went on to produce two more books, Our Kind of People (1975) and Working: I Do It For The Money (1977), and he received numerous awards and accolades. But, in the late 1970s, before finding a publisher for his fourth book—this one focusing on Americans at leisure—Owens abandoned photography. In 1982 he founded the highly successful Buffalo Bill's Brewery in Hayward, California, which he operated until 1996. He is also the founder and publisher of American Brewer magazine.
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