Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Bill Owens: not what I expected

Just received the latest issue of the ANP Quarterly in the mail, and was excited to see that it included an Ed Templeton interview with Bill Owens.

I remember seeing Owens' classic book Suburbia for the first time. Changed my life. My signed copy of Leisure is one of my all time favorite photo books. His work inspired my own in many ways for many years. Still does.

But it's a bummer when the people whose work you look to for inspiration are not very inspirational in person. This interview really bums me out -- he is cynical, jaded, and full of stereotypes and contradictions. Not quite what I expected, or what I aspire to be when I am 71, with 50 years of photography behind me.

The interview is not available online, but here are a few choice quotes:

"I've had a rich life, unlike a lot of people, who just kinda have a job."

"... all the things I've set out to do in life mostly have failed."

"What's $200 to me? That's my bar tab. I drink that much at a local bar, you know?"

"I've been photographing food for the last three or four years. I have 14 DVDs full of food images. I can't find a publisher..."

"I'm a photographer's photographer. I do this on my own, with my own money. I am not beholden to anyone when I'm out doing photographs. When you start working for a client, you've gotta do what the art director says or you're dead."

"I've been turned down by a lot of people because I'm too cynical. I just say 'I'm realistic'"

"...for a photographer coming through the system, there is no work. Why would you go to photography school? There's not a job for you out there."

"My time was a special time where I could work one day a week for a year. I shot Suburbia in 52 days....I took a year to plan it, a year to shoot it, and a year to get a publisher."

"I don't follow music. Those guys come and go. They abuse their wives. They take drugs. Screw them. I'm not interested in those guys who make millions and millions of dollars and have a drug habit."

"...You have fat assed people drinking a Coke. I think the average person in America drinks a Coke a day. You know, it's like 16 teaspoons of sugar. No wonder we have health problems."

"I'm 71 and very healthy. I don't eat very much meat now, but I do have gout, from the rich life of alcohol. Alcohol drinking will give you gout."

"I'm one of those rare people who have a sense of humor. My films, you laugh your ass off."

"And in the movie industry, I'm sure those guys are driven by some kind of demons, to get sex from beautiful women -- to live up to the expectations of their parents or their successful brother..."

"If you have a degree in art from a college, you'll just simply starve to death. There are no jobs for artists. Sorry. Go on Craigslist, put in there: 'I'm an artist. Give me a job.' See if anybody calls you. I don't think anybody will call you to come make a drawing."

"Looking back, I'm one of the few people out of my high school or college that is successful."

Are you, Bill?


akripke said...

It sounds like he has a kind of dry unfunny sarcasm. I can see how when taken word for word a lot of his comments come across as condescending. He may not be intending to sound that way but instead is trying to be humorous and failing miserably.

Timothy Archibald said...

Its unclear to me what you wanted Bill Owens to be like. Alot of the stuff you quoted sounds accurate...esp the art school stuff.
Can you explain in your words what bummed you out about his interview?

Reamer said...

I've seen many of the food photos, as a friend was printing them. NOt really suprised they haven't found a home.

ibnelson said...

Bill Owens is absolutely right on. I worked with/for him, as an artist, for about ten years: for his brew pubs, for his magazines and other stuff. He treated me right and kept his word 100%. I found him absolutely honest in our business affairs and utterly unconcerned with 'public perception'. He is without question "his own man" and I highly admire him for that. Bill, I raise a pint of Pumpkin Ale to you!

Jamie Kripke said...

@TA, to answer your question, several months later....

I hope that dedicating our lives to a creative pursuit, and being really good at it, will bring us increasing levels of happiness, or at least some sort of cumulative, positive wisdom. Even if we never actually find that happiness, it's important to keep moving towards it, and imagine that it exists. Otherwise, what's the point?

So when I see Mr. Owens, whose work has inspired me for years, do an interview that really paints him as a bitter old man, it bums me out.

A life dedicated to art should add to and expand one's lens on the world, rather than subtract and close it off.

@ibnelson -- he is clearly a man of character, and I don't doubt that he treats people well. Sounds like you and Bill had some good times together.

But, do you think he is happy?