This past May, I had the opportunity to visit Sweden to make a presentation about my photographic research at the international Geomedia 2017 conference. The conference was held at Karlstad University in the town of Karlstad. Lovely city located about halfway between Stockholm and Oslo, Norway. We had the opportunity to ride both high-speed trains and slower, vintage Cold War era trains between Karlstad and Stockholm. While in Stockholm, we did get to visit Gamla Stan or the old Stockholm. This portion of the city dates back to the 13th century, around 1252 CE. Just as a side note, my ancestral family name originates in this part of Scandinavia. Maybe there’s some deep genetic root that made me feel so comfortable and “at home” in Sweden!
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
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!
Superman, © 2008, Terry Ownby.
Big John, © 2008, Terry Ownby
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 Altphotos.com, 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