Bill Owens Biography

San Jose, 1938

Born in San Jose, California, at the tail end of the Depression years, the young Bill Owens witnessed the creation of suburbia in the 'Sunshine State'. Aware that he was in the midst of a social phenomenon, Owens began to photograph this latest wave of settlers in the West. Without cynicism, he used his camera to record the developing suburban environment, and to study the idiosyncratic interior decoration, optimistic occupants, and their social gatherings. Frank and uncontrived, this collection of images avoids cliches to offer an insightful study of fledgling American dreams in the 70s.

Retrospectively, Owens was the right man in the right place, several factors in his life contributing to the conception of the 'Suburbia' photographic project. Raised on a farm, by parents who themselves had migrated from Oklahoma to flee the demise of farming in the Dustbowl, Owens was aware of both re-location, and the agricultural landscape. Furthermore, Owens possessed an aversion to photography as a fine art form. Indeed, he fared poorly at San Francisco State University, where he disagreed with his tutors, eschewing formal values for an attempt to practice visual anthropology. After a spell in the Peace Corps as a teacher, Owens returned to California, and in 1968 found work as a photographer for the Livermore Independent.

His work for this newspaper took him out and about, and Owens saw that farmland was being developed at a remarkably rapid pace. In order to accommodate the continuing exodus of families from American cities, agricultural land was snapped up by fast-moving developers, and transformed into small cities. The scale of this urban flight was awesome: by 1980 approximately 60 million Americans had moved to the suburbs. Realizing that the development occurring around him was of some interest, Owens began to document his surroundings. Moreover, he understood the significance, in personal terms, of being able to start afresh, with a new home and new opportunities.

In 1973 this collection of photographs, 'Suburbia', was published in book form. Images in both color and black and white are presented - often with captions: detailing the names of those portrayed, or offering their opinions in the form of short quotes. As a chronicle of the good folks of Livermore, 'Suburbia' is a revelation of homemakers' American Dreams. Cars and carpets, furniture and fireplaces, lawns and laminated surfaces: these new purchases create a gregarious backdrop to hair-do's, housework and hobbies.

But it's not all fun in the hot-tub. Indeed, dissenting opinions are interspersed throughout the book. A laborer hauling trash observes that the new residents cannot conceive of the needs of other people. A housebound mother declares her belief in women's liberation, and also notes her frustration with her situation. Another mom, babe in arms and hair in curlers, ruefully observes 'How can I worry about the damned dishes when there are children dying in Vietnam.'

Owens continued to capture everyday concerns, publishing two more collections of images in the 70s. Civic groups were documented in Our Kind of People, whilst different occupations were recorded in Working. I do it for the Money. His work has been included in exhibitions from the 70s until the present day, whilst Suburbia was republished in 1999.

selected resume


Berkeley Art Museum, USA

Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, France

Berkeley Art Museum, USA

Berkeley Art Museum, USA

Center for Creative Photography, USA

Museum of Modern Art, New York

Museum of Modern Art, Stockholm, Sweden

National Museum of American Art, USA

Oakland Museum, USA

San Jose Museum of Modern Art, USA


'Bill Owens: Images from Suburbia', artandphotographs gallery, London, 2000

'The Suburban Seventies: Photographs by Bill Owens', San Jose Museum of Art, 2000

'Presumed innocent', CAPC Musee d'art contemporain de Bordeaux, France, 2000

'Ni Jeunes, ni vieux, mais bons (Neither young, nor old, but good)', Galerie Gabrielle Maubrie, 2000

'Car Culture', Museum of Photography, Riverside, 2000

'Domestic Artifacts: Ken Botto, Dale Kistemaker, Bill Owens', Robert Koch Gallery, San Francisco, USA, 1999

'New York Suburban Folk Tales', Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, 1999

'Pure Products of America: Photographs 1968-1978 by Robert Adams, Bill Owens, and Henry Wessel', Matthew Marks Gallery, New York, 1999

'Bill Owens', Greg Kucera Gallery, Seattle, USA, 1999

'Insiders-Intimate Images', Robert Koch Gallery, San Francisco, USA, 1999

'Bill Owens', Centre Photographie d'Ile-de-France, 1998

'A Fine and Private Place: Mortality, Monuments and Memory', Merge Photo Gallery, Denver Art Museum, Denver, USA, 1998

'Coming of Age', Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, Tuscon, USA, 1998

'Photographic Highlights from the Permanent Collection', San Jose Museum, 1998

'Ground Control', Lombard/Freid Gallery, USA, 1998

'Bill Owens', Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto, Canada, 1998

'Rendez-Vous Manques', Galerie Gabrielle Maubrie, Paris, France, 1998

'Bill Owens' Suburbia', Galerie Gabrielle Maubrie, Paris, France, 1998

'Suburbia Vintage Prints', Robert Koch Gallery, San Francisco, USA, 1997

'The Gun as Image', Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts, USA, 1996

'Commonplace Mysteries', San Francisco Museum of Modern Art', San Francisco, USA, 1996

'Symbols', Contemporary Art Center of Capitou, France, 1996

'Bill Owens', Blum and Poe Gallery, Los Angeles, USA, 1996

'Bill Owens: Photographs of Brisbane, California', City of Brisbane (City Offices), USA, 1995

'Bill Owens Suburban Selections (1970-71)', Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, USA, 1995

'Photographs from suburbia, Our Kind of People and Working', American Fine Arts, New York, USA, 1994

'Best of Bill Owens', The Art Museum Association San Francisco, San Francisco, USA, 1983

'Best of Bill Owens', Virginia Intermount College, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, USA, 1983

'Best of Bill Owens', University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, USA, 1983

'Best of Bill Owens', Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie, Arles France, 1983

'Suburbia', The White Gallery, Tel-Aviv, Israel, 1983

'Suburbia', The Lloyd Gallery, Spokane, USA, 1983

'Bill Owens', University of New Mexico, USA, 1982

'Bill Owens', The Photo Gallery, Portland School of Art, USA

'Bill Owens', Popular Photography Photo Gallery, New York, USA

'Bill Owens', Cotton Memorial Gallery, El Paso, USA

'Bill Owens', University Galleries, Columbus, USA

'Bill Owens', Rice University Media Center, Houston, USA

'Bill Owens', Kline Commons Gallery Bard College, Annandale, USA

'Bill Owens', Photography Gallery, Bristol, USA

'Bill Owens', Bry Art Gallery, Monroe, USA

'Bill Owens', Department of Art, Durango, Colorado, USA

'Photography in the 60s and 70s (South American Exhibition)', International Center of Photography, New York, USA, 1983

'Suburbia: 10th Anniversary Exhibition', Cameravision, Los Angeles, USA, 1982

'Documentary Photographs', Corporate Art Department Blue Cross of Northern California, USA, 1982

'Suburbia', Tokyo Institute of Polytechnics, Shandai Gallery, Tokyo, Japan, 1982

'Suburbia', Gallery kiek inb de KoK, Tallinn, Astonia, 1982 (traveling to Haapsalu, Kohtla-Jarve, and Rakvere)

Galerie Oktogon, Hanover, Germany, 1982

'Suburbia', Buenos Aires and La Plata, Argentina, 1982

'Suburbia', Album Gallery, San Paulo and Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1982

'Suburbia', Basement Gallery, Compendium Bookstore, Sydney, Australia, 1982

'Home+Family?', Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy, 1981

'Bill Owens', Cannon Photo Gallery, Amsterdam, Holland, 1981

'Bill Owens', Munich, Germany, 1981

'Bill Owens', London, England, 1981

Photographics Center of Athens, Athens, Greece, 1981

'Suburbia', G. Ray Hawkins Gallery, Los Angeles, USA, 1981

'Bill Owens', La Photo Galeria, Madrid, Spain, 1980

'Bill Owens', Cannon Photo Gallery, Amsterdam, Holland, 1980

'Bill Owens', Munich, Germany, 1980

'Bill Owens', Geneva, Switzerland, 1980

'Bill Owens', London, England, 1980

'Bill Owens', Galerie Breting, Berlin, Germany, 1980

'Bill Owens', Contre Jour, Paris, France, 1980

'Bill Owens', Il D'Aframma, Milan, Italy, 1980

'Bill Owens', Colegio de Arcultectos, La Coruna, Spain, 1980

'Bill Owens', Cajas de Attornos, Navarra, Spain, 1980

'Bill Owens', Photogalbreit, Oslo, Norway, 1980

'Bill Owens', Fotomania, Barcelona, Spain, 1980

'Bill Owens', John Hansard Gallery, The University, Southampton, England, 1980

'Photography/Recent Directions', De Cordova Museum, Lincoln, USA, 1980

'Conference on Visual Anthology', Temple University, Philadelphia, USA, 1980

Los Angeles Museum of Natural History, Los Angeles, USA, 1980

Colorado Photographic Art Center, USA, 1980

Harbor College Art Gallery, Los Angeles, 1980

'Attitudes: Photography in the 1970s', Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1979

The Art Center/San Luis Obisbo Art Association, San Luis Obisbo, USA, 1979

'Working', Oregon Gallery, Museum of Art, Eugene, USA, 1979

Hippolyte, Helsinki, Finland, 1979

Drew University, Madison, USA, 1979

'Approaches to Photography', Amarillo Art Center Association, Amarillo, USA, 1979

'Mirrors and Windows: American Photography Since 1960', Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA, 1978

'Mirrors and Windows: American Photography Since 1960', Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, USA, 1979

'Mirrors and Windows: American Photography Since 1960', Walker Art Museum, Minneapolis, USA, 1979

'Mirrors and Windows: American Photography Since 1960', J B Speed Art Museum, Louisville, USA, 1979

'Mirrors and Windows: American Photography Since 1960', San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, USA, 1979

'Mirrors and Windows: American Photography Since 1960', University of Illinois/Krannert Art Museum, Champaign, USA, 1979

'Mirrors and Windows: American Photography Since 1960', Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, USA, 1979

'Mirrors and Windows: American Photography Since 1960', Milwaukee Art Center, Milwaukee, USA, 1980

'Mirrors and Windows: American Photography Since 1960', Musee d'Art de La Ville de Paris, Paris, France, 1981

'Mirrors and Windows: American Photography Since 1960', The Louisiana Museum, Humlebaek, Denmark, 1981

'Mirrors and Windows: American Photography Since 1960', Sonja Henie-Niels onstead Foundations, Hovikodden, Norway, 1981

'Mirrors and Windows: American Photography Since 1960', City Art Center, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1981

'Mirrors and Windows: American Photography Since 1960', Douglas Hyde Gallery/Trinity College University of Dublin, Dublin, Ireland, 1981

'Mirrors and Windows: American Photography Since 1960', Mole Antonelliana, Turin, Italy, 1981-82

'Approaches to Photography', Amarillo Art Center Association, Amarillo, USA, 1978 'Suburbia', University of Oregon Museum of Art, Portland, USA, 1978

'Tusen och Bild/The Thousand and One Pictures', Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden, 1978 'The Work Show', M H De Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, USA, 1978

'Bill Owens: Amerikanische Gruppen, Leben in Vorstadten', Galerie Breiting, Berlin, Germany, 1978

Western Carolina University, Cullowee, USA, 1978

Clemsen University, USA, 1978

'Bill Owens/Jan Saudek', Il diframma, Milan, Italy, 1978

'Bill Owens immagini da 'Suburbia' e 'Our Kind of People'', Liberia & Galleria Pan, Rome, Italy, 1978

Genevieve and Donald Gilmore Art Center, Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, Kalamazoo, USA, 1978

'Suburbia', The Halstead, 831 Gallery, Birmingham, USA, 1978

'Suburbia', Open Air Gallery, Estonia, Russia, 1977

'Suburbia', Columbia Gallery of Photography, Columbia, Missouri, 1977

'America Photographic Statements: 12 Photographers', Neikrug Gallery, 1977

'Suburbia', Showa, Tokyo, Japan, 1977

'Suburbia', Columbia Gallery of Photography, Columbia, USA, 1977

'Suburbia', John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, USA, 1977

'Suburbia', La Photo Galaria, Madrid, Spain, 1977

Ferens Art Gallery, City of Kingston Upon Hull, England, 1977

'Bill Owens: Suburbia', Dalhhousie University Art Gallery, Halifax, Canada, 1976

'You Ought to Be in Pictures: American Family Portraits 1730-1976', Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, USA, 1976

'Suburbia', Infinite Eye Studio/Gallery, Milwaukee, USA, 1976

Smithsonian Bicentennial Exhibition group show, 1976

'Signs of Life: Symbols in the American City', Renwick Gallery, Washington, D C, USA, 1976

'Guggenheim Fellow Photographs', Mary Porter Sesnon Gallery, UC, Santa Cruz, USA, 1975

Newport School of Photography, Newport Beach, USA, 1975

'New Bay Area Photographers', De Young Museum, San Francisco, USA, 1973

'Critic's Choice', Focus Gallery, San Francisco, USA, 1972

'Bill Owens Village Life', Institute of Jamaica, Jamaica, West Indies, 1965