popular culture

Atomic Road Trip

The first week of October I drove to southern New Mexico to research and photograph tourists’ activities related to the birth of the atomic era. Specifically, twice a year in April and October, White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) opens the Trinity Site to the public for a one-day visit. Trinity Site is ground zero for the Manhattan Project’s first atomic bomb test on July 16, 1945. Less than a month later atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. Trinity Site is located near the Jornada del Muerto desert (Journey of the Dead Man) and in the Tularosa Basin, just northwest of Alamogordo.

Having lived part of my childhood in the mountains east of Alamogordo, I felt it important to visit WSRM to try to better understand where my father worked during the late 1950s. After visiting the WSRM Museum and Missile Park, I did gain some insights into his life and work. For example, I did not realize WSRM was originally established near the end of WWII, in part, for reverse engineering the Nazi V-2 rocket with Germany’s top rocket scientist, Dr. Wehner von Braun. My father’s work overlapped with von Bruan’s for the next decade as my father worked on the Mercury and Gemini manned space programs.

Needless to say, it was an interesting and tiring 5-day road trip, which included three out of four nights camping (two nights were in Mesa Verda National Park).

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 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