This is our second annual Fourth of July block party. This year thirty-three families came for beer, barbequed chicken, corn on the cob, potato salad, green salad, macaroni salad, and watermelon. After eating and drinking we staged our parade and fireworks.
Bill Owens ( American, 1938 )
In a series of four photographs [2005.103.1, 2005.103.2, 2005.103.3], Bill Owens has captured a particular place and time in the United States: 1970s suburbia. In these views of people in and around their homes, Owens presents us with both a picture and a story, the text of which was provided by the subjects themselves in describing their lives. The optimism of these brief narratives renders the images themselves perhaps even more wry to our postmodern, early 21st century lives; yet we are of course implicated as viewers in our necessarily reflexive judging of these citizens of what was once thought to be a brave new world of convenience, autonomy and the "good life."
In Owens's view of the cul-de-sac, the archetypal subdivision feature, we see a landscape of houses, bicycles, and children in perfect harmony, a vision of middle class America that was relentlessly pursued in the decades following World War II and which continues to inform how our culture measures success and well being. Owens's work indeed strikes an analytic tone, yet one that we are perhaps still too close to to feel entirely comfortable around: what we see here is the 1970s in all that decade's (often awful to our eyes) visual cacophony, bad taste, and excess. From a distance of some thirty years, Owens's systematic recordings are historical in their registering of dress, manners, tools, and sociology. Owens's photographs are not staged beyond the subjects' poses; he records what was there in a way that is direct, yet somehow not entirely unsympathetic.
DMA unpublished material, 2005.