fine art photography

Technology and Its Ideological Implications

Today I created a test shot for a new photographic series I’ve been wanting to produce. The photographs will address technology from an ideological perspective. Specifically, Neil Postman’s Technopoly plays a significant role in this framework. As one of the 20th century’s more interesting cultural and media critics, Postman warned against technology’s ability to eclipse humankind through what he called the “tyranny of machines”.

This series of images depicting various forms of technology will be paired as diptychs contrasting analog and digital technologies from across various scientific disciplines. As such, I hope to investigate social and institutional ideological stances and influences that creep into our sense of personal self-identity without our awareness. In other words, we assume this aspect of life to be normal.

The image below is my first test-shot in the series and it depicts a 50-year old Paragon Engineer’s Transit, manufactured by the Keuffel & Esser Company. K&E, as it was known, was founded in 1867 in New York and last produced this particular model of transits in 1969.

© 2011 Terry Ownby


Vineyard book finally published!

Over the course of the past year, I have given my readers updates regarding the progress of my book project about a vineyard. Specifically, it’s about Baltimore Bend Vineyard, near Waverly, Missouri and the seasonal changes and activities over the course of a year. It’s been a fun journey!

Technology has certainly come along way since I started photographing three decades ago. But more importantly, this technology now allows the photographer or writer the ability to publish their books without the hassles and expense of finding a publisher willing to advance your work. On-demand publishing brings to anyone interested in publishing their work the ability to do so without printing thousands of copies. This new technology and business model allows one to print only one copy of their book, or hundreds. The author is total control, which I find very nice.

Below are the front and back covers of my second monograph: Journey Through The Vineyard: A Photographic Year At Baltimore Bend.

© 2010 Terry Ownby

Mammy’s Head’n to Texas!

Images from my Incongruity series keep reaping acclaim and exhibitions! A shot from last summer’s road trip to New Orleans garnered an exhibit venue down in Johnson City, Texas. The photograph, Mammy’s Cupboard was shot down in Natchez, MS, and will go on display later this month at the A. Smith Gallery. The national competition, called “Domicile”, was a juried show. I also found out the image will be used on their promo cards, which are to hit the postal mail soon.

© 2009 Terry Ownby

Photo-trekking in the Tall Grass Prairie

This past weekend marked our second annual “unofficial” spring break photo trip to the prairies of Flint Hills region in Kansas. By far, one of my all-time favorite places in the U.S., I never get tired of photographing there. Every time I return to these prairies, the scene is never the same and depending on the time of year, it might be shades of earthy browns or lush emerald greens or charred black from fire and dotted with copious amounts of flint and limestone.

Originally, myself and two other photo professors (Tom and Wilson) from the University of Central Missouri started going to the Flint Hills for its unique photographic qualities…and we soon fell in love with this region. Eventually we invited other faculty and alumni. Last year I convinced my colleagues to encourage photo students to tag along…unofficially. We had a good time, so this year I promoted our event more aggressively. All total, there were 17 like-minded folks trekking the plains, including three international non-photo students (one from France and two from South Korea). My travel partner (Robert) on this trip was my former portfolio student and an extraordinary nature photographer in his own right, having backpacked more than 30 years and traveled in 17 countries. Check out Robert’s work by clicking here.

We gathered early Saturday morning just off campus and car pooled west to the Kansas Turnpike, stopping at the McDonald’s oasis just east of Lawrence. This stop off point has become a breakfast ritual over the years and a brief chance for our first socialization outside the university. Next, we caravanned southwest to Emporia and descended on a lone Subway sandwich shop in order to take lunch with us on our first seven mile hike. After arriving at the Tall Grass Prairie National Preserve and getting our orientation briefing from the ranger, off we headed on the Scenic Overlook Trail, taking us well into the backcountry. The park service estimates this to be a 2.5-hour round-trip hike…they didn’t anticipate a bunch of photographers! We spent closer to five hours hiking, photographing, eating lunch in sheltered limestone creek beds, and having encounters with bison. Only one in our party took the wrong trail on the return and ended up three miles south of the historic ranch headquarters, but we eventually found the wayward student and immediately set off on the second leg of our journey…Junction City, home of the Big Red One and the atomic cannon.

Day two of our trek began early with a short drive east to the Konza Prairie Biological Station, just south of K-State. Here we were greeted by numerous deer and at least 50 wild turkeys. What a sight! The morning was not as windy as the previous day, but it was damp and misty. Had to break out the rain pants. Large portions of the Konza had been burned and thus revealed many limestone outcroppings and ribbons of chert (flint). I’ve never seen the prairie look like this before, so I found it quite interesting. As I said at the beginning of this blog, the prairie is always changing and never stays the same…always providing new photographic opportunities.

Several of us rendezvoused at noon and headed into Aggieville for a bite at one of our favorite eateries, the Bluestem Bistro. I’ve eaten there several times now, and never been disappointed in their coffee or fare. This time lunch was a turkey and sundried tomato quiche with their skillet hash browns. Fantastic! On the way out of Aggieville, we spotted an elusive Wisconsin gnome in the park, checking out the mythical 30-foot tall Johnny Kaw statue in the city park. Perfect ending to a great photo safari on the Kansas prairie!

© 2010 Terry Ownby

© 2010 Terry Ownby

© 2010 Terry Ownby

© 2010 Terry Ownby

NOLA Road Trip ’09

Road trips have always been a big part of my life. By the time I was five years old (in the late 1950s) I had traveled the famous Route 66 numerous times with my parents (between Missouri, New Mexico, and on out to California). I’ve loved being on the road ever since. So, after more than a month of nothing but writing papers in response to my doctoral content prelim exams and completing an on-line research course, I decided to give myself a solo vacation to New Orleans to visit one of my sons and his family (read grandkids here!).

Pretty much I can’t stand driving on the interstate highways as they’re so blah, generic, or “pedestrian.” Instead, I’ll take backroads whenever the opportunity arises, which it did on this trip. I used the interstate system to get me into Mississippi, just south of Memphis, and then off the beaten path I went! Once I made my way over to Vicksburg, I drove U.S. Highway 61 along Ol’ Man River until I reached NOLA. There’s so much history along that corridor of the Mississippi River Valley, one could spend days photographing and sight-seeing the antebellum plantations and Civil War battlefields.

Photographically speaking, I captured some interesting shots, I think. After having a lunch of gumbo on my first day in New Orleans at my favorite local joint, Liuzza’s, I made my way over to City Park. The Live Oaks there are incredible with their branches touching the ground and suckering off new trees. Other photo ops included another muffler man (the King) and Mammy’s Cupboard (near Natchez, MS) for my Incongruity series; cool looking Cyprus trees in the Jean Laffite Bayou; a new balcony series from the French Quarter; and incredible views of the 275-year old Live Oak “alley” at Oak Alley Plantation.

Oak Alley Plantation

Oak Alley Plantation, © 2009 Terry Ownby


Mammy’s Cupboard, © 2009 Terry Ownby

Prescriptions, cafes, and memories

Last week Wilson (photography program coordinator and colleague at UCM) and I headed down to Joplin, MO to pick up our images that had been displayed in the recent Photo Spiva show. Since the day was young, we decided to head over to Springfield, my old stomping grounds when I was a college student. We made our way downtown and started looking for the galleries on Walnut Street. Imediately we found the Elite PhotoArt Gallery, where one of our student’s work was on display…Robert Weston Breshears. He had a set of his journalistic style images from Afganistan and Pakistan, which were on stretched canvas, prominently on display. Stepping next door, we entered the Art + Design Gallery, which is hosted by the Art + Design Department at Missouri State Unveristy, where I earned by bachelor’s in photography and media. The senior exhibit was hanging, so that was great to see current student work. I wish we had a gallery this nice when I was a student there! While in the gallery, I was talking with the gallery director, who turned out to be a good friend and former photography classmate my those early college days…a day of surprises…I hadn’t seen her since the early 1980s!

Eventually Wilson and I wondered down the street to make images. Downtown Springfield has changed somewhat since I was there years ago, but I recognized the buildings. This image below of the Gailey’s Cafe and former drug store (part of the Seville Hotel) was located just down from Ozark Camera, where I used to hang out as a college student and where I bought my first Nikon.


© 2009 Terry Ownby

Big Brutus!

My search for incongruities continues. I started photographing odd and large culturally significant objects about five years ago and doubt if I’ll ever grow tired of this quest. Two years ago I went to a technology convention at Pittsburg State University in southeast Kansas. One of my traveling companions, Wilson, had discovered the existence of Big Brutus and had suggested that we photograph it for my series. We weren’t sure where it was located and time at the convention prevented us from tracking it down. However, this past weekend, he and I had the opportunity to travel to Joplin, MO, to drop off our images that had been accepted for inclusion at the George A. Spiva Center for the Arts‘ annual national photo competition.

On our return trip, we decided to drift over the stateline and explore southeast Kansas. As we were heading north, we suddenly spotted a small sign telling passersby that Big Brutus was just 13 miles off the beaten path. Well, with no timeline or agenda, your intrepid wanderers were off on a new adventure! We did indeed find the brute, but only after stumbling onto another magnificant photo op at a local train club having their meeting. They had refurbished train depots, all kinds of trains, including passenger cars and some really cool cabooses. Anyway, on to brutus. Big Brutus is a monster! The world’s second largest electric coal shovel, it towers 16 stories (160 feet) with a boom that is 150 feet long. The bucket on this behemoth has a capacity of 150 tons (enough to fill three railroad cars). Needless to say, Big Brutus is BIG! Additionally, the non-profit organization running the Big Brutus operation had a really BIG fee to go inside the fence for a closer look. Needless to say, we weren’t going to partake in their highway robbery, so we pulled out our BIG lenses and shot from the parking lot!!!


© 2009 Terry Ownby

Opening Reception of Menage a Trois II Exhibition

Last weekend was the opening reception for the Menage a Trois II Exhibition at the Watson Studio Gallery in Johnson City, just outside of Austin, Texas. Carol Watson, the gallery owner, was kind enough to post a video of the opening reception. Within 30 seconds of the beginning of the video, you will see the camera pan across my three images on display there: Tall Rancher, SuperMan, and Big John.

Opening Reception


Some images work well in and of themselves and need no supporting cast, whether that be text, audio, or other images. Yet other times, images seem to tell a better story when grouped as a package, as viewers sometimes find in photo stories or photo essays found in newspapers or magazines. But photojournalistic stories are not what I what to write about tonight. (Although I am a huge fan of W. Eugene Smith’s photo stories in Life magazine!)

Grouping images in pairs or trios is the topic instead. Specifically I am referring to diptychs and triptychs. In this blog I have already posted several diptychs, but tonight it’s about triptychs. The word triptych comes from an early writing tablet used by the Romans in which there was one central writing panel flanked by additional panels left and right, which were hinged to the central one. Eventually this configuration was adopted by early Christian artists and was used for both paintings and carved reliefs, such as the Byzantine Harbaville Triptych from the 10th century CE.

Today many photographers group photos as either diptychs or triptychs, including yours truly. Recently I had the opportunity to enter an international photo competition in Texas and the theme centered around groups of three (read triptych here). The exhibition is called Menage a Trois II , which comes from the French expression ménage à trois, meaning “household of three”. While typically this references a three-way sexual affair, which is not the case here for this exhibition at the Watson Studio Gallery, located not far from Austin, Texas. (However, for an excellent read, try Ernest Hemingway’s In the Garden of Eden, which I read during my grad school days.)

The triptych of images below are the ones accepted for the juried exhibition at the Texas art gallery. The images are: Tall Rancher, SuperMan, and Big John.

Three Giants

© 2009 Terry Ownby

Incongruity: Found American Cultural Objects

Four years ago I began a series of images that came to be through happenstance. In other words, I simply stumbled onto some unlikely situations as they presented themselves to me and I leveraged the photographic opportunity to my creative advantage. Since that serendipitous moment, I have actively sought out similar objects to photograph and so far, I’ve been nicely rewarded with different photographic opportunities.

I’m a big fan of taking road trips throughout the United States (something my father inflicted me with at an early age!) and these trips target my found American cultural objects. The thing is, these pop cultural objects are incongruous with their surroundings or sometimes just life in general. Americans seem infatuated with the notion that “bigger is better” and thus construct these larger-than-life edifices to commemorate this “bigness”.

On a recent trip to Nashville, home of the Grand Ole Opry, I intentionally detoured my road trip to the small Ohio River town of Metropolis, Illinois, home of America’s number one super hero—Superman. I’ve been here numerous times with my folks when I was a kid and had not been back in nearly 40 years, so I was very happy to see Superman still stood next to the court house. But to my surprise, I found another giant in town, Big John, standing vigilantly outside the Big John grocery store. What a deal…two giants for the price of one!

Giant Super Man--Metropolis, IL

Superman, © 2008, Terry Ownby.

Big John-Metropolis, IL

Big John, © 2008, Terry Ownby