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© Bill Owens
Purchased in part with funds provided by the Photographs Council

Bill Owens
American, Livermore, CA, 1971
Gelatin silver print
8 7/16 x 11 1/2 in.
2005.36.2

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Bill Owens's photograph of a housewife and her children doesn't simply illustrate the caption she provided. Instead, it provides a wry counterpoint to--and yet incorporates all of the inherent contradictions in--her words. "I believe in women's liberation. I'm tired of the image of the woman who has the most sanitary toilet bowl, the cleanest floor and the brattiest kids as the supermother. I want to be able to change with my children and to change with my life as I grow older. Staying at home and taking care of the kids doesn't help." The woman sits contentedly on a couch in her bathrobe, feeding her baby as her other young child watches television. A stylized portrait of a woman hung over the fireplace seems to symbolize the feminist viewpoint she alludes to.

This photograph is part of the series Suburbia (1972), which depicts the rituals and lifestyles of San Francisco East Bay residents in the late '60s and early '70s. With clearly conceived notions of Americans--at work and at play, indoors and out, in family and in social groups--Owens's intention was neither to criticize nor parody the conformity and materialism he witnessed in middle-class America. Instead, he enabled his subjects to speak for themselves. Using medium-format cameras outfitted with wide-angle lenses and fill-in flash, Owens involved his friends, relatives, and neighbors in the project not only by photographing them, but also by asking them to record their comments on cards, which he included as captions in the book.