Month: July 2008

Wunderkammer: Specimens Views of my Postmodern Life

Inspiration comes to creatives using various guises. One aspect of the creative process I’ve tried to articulate to my students is that of being open to life. Ideas that can be used for creative expression find their way to us often times in very unexpected ways. But once the Muse has visited and touched our creative spirit, it’s time to focus and release our energy into that creative project.

Such was the case recently with this new project of personal still lifes, tentatively titled Wunderkammer: Specimens Views of my Postmodern Life. The initial impetus arrived before me this past winter one afternoon while drinking a cup of hot organic chai tea. Tazo to be exact. I became fascinated with the small paper tab attached to the end of the tea bag. This tab looked like an old scientific or museum specimen label and from a graphic design standpoint, I thought this was exceptional. That was the first seed planted by the Muse.

The second inspiration came while viewing images online at, one of my favorite international websites for serious photographers. In late March, I viewed a still life image entitled Ikon, created by a duet of photographers from Belgium and France known as Parallax(e). Their image was simple: a bottle of water, some onions and fruit in a bowl, and eating cutlery framed behind in display cases. It was the display cases that caught my eye and in that incipient moment, I saw the specimen labels and display cases come together as small vignettes of my life.

Beginning with my childhood during the 1950s and 1960s, heavily influenced by postmodernistic usage of mass media, the series utilizes the technique of reframing to illustrate my life. The first three images address my elementary school years: little league baseball, manned space flight, cub scouts, and my various collections. A singular image emphasizes my high schools days with my focus on being a hippie and loving my music. The series next depicts adulthood showing earlier years while in graduate school, when I enjoyed smoking pipes and cigars. Next comes my shift from hippieism to militarism (I served in all three branches of the military). Farm life and artist address the next pair of images, which occurred simultaneously. Followed lastly by an image depicting my current position as a photography professor. All totaled, there are nine images thus far in this series. Final exhibition size will be 12” x 12” matted in 16” square black frames. Below are a few examples from the series. To view the entire series on-line, click here!

Elementary: Little League, © 2008 Terry Ownby

Farming, © 2008 Terry Ownby

Road Trip USA

Hitting the highway, or road tripping, is a great American pastime. As a child of the 1950s and 1960s, I was raised on the road, so to speak. Especially on the original and now famous US Route 66. Since my folks lived in St. Louis, Missouri, we never drove the Chicago to St. Louis section. But, from St. Louis westward, numerous times we put the rubber to the road!

By the time I was five (circa 1959), our family had driven the St. Louis to Santa Rosa, New Mexico, several times. During that time and afterwards, we also drove it to the end of the line, in Santa Monica, Calif. Back in those days Route 66 was not a four-lane super highway, but rather a two-lane, meandering road with numerous stops along the way. I remember it always being a long, arduous trip, as my folks’ car had no air conditioning. Several times we drove long sections at night to avoid the heat. But I have plenty of daytime memories of those road trips and stopping for water (for the car radiator) and gas before crossing long stretches of desert. Places like Barstow, Needles, Flagstaff, Gallup, Tucumcari, and Amarillo standout in my mind’s eye. There were many small-town diners, typical of that era, which have long since faded away. But one still remains out in California and that was Sambo’s. I remember we stopped at these pancake houses numerous times, especially by my teenage years when we lived in California.

But road trips are more than just driving from point A to point B. It’s about meeting people and visiting friends and family along the way, as well. Last month we did a 2100+ mile road trip in nine days. First leg took us to southern Ohio, where we spent time with my son and his family. Playing with grandkids is always great fun! Next we headed north to Toledo and then westward to Chicago, where we soaked up as much urban culture and fine dining as possible. From there it was further north, to Wisconsin, to visit friends at the university and from my Army days. More great food was enjoyed and vistas of beautiful dairy farms and vineyards were viewed, quite unlike what’s in Missouri.

Road tripping may become a seldom-enjoyed pastime, as oil and gas prices continue to soar. I did notice fewer cars on the interstates during our trip, especially those with out-of-state plates. We even had to adjust our trip by renting a small, economy class car, which was a trade-off in comfort for fuel-efficiency. But regardless, being on the road is part of my lifestyle, and something I immensely enjoy and as long as I can find a means and a way, I’ll be road tripping for a long time!

© 2008 Terry Ownby, I spotted this VW bus, along with another in caravan somewhere in Indiana. The VWs were complete with decals, hula girls on the dash, and love beads and peace signs. Talk about a blast from the past!

© 2008 Terry Ownby, As I moved along photographing these two VW buses, I noticed on the second pass that the driver was into this whole gig and was photographing me! What a hoot! Who said road trips couldn’t be fun?!

© 2008 Terry Ownby, Here’s a small montage from our road trip. Friends, family, and city life!