Peace Corps Writers Award for Artistic Merit
Bill Owens (Jamaica 1964–66)

IN 1972 BILL OWENS PUBLISHED a collection of photographs on suburbia entitled Suburbia. In this cult classic book photographer Owens acted as an anthropologist objectively documenting suburban inhabitants, their native environs, and their daily rituals. By pairing the images with quotes made by the subjects, Owens created a hilarious and absurd account of life in the suburbs. A life that included Tupperware parties, backyard barbecues, and going to the hairdresser.
     Last year the fourth and final volume in his landmark Suburbia series [Suburbia (1973; 1999), Our Kind Of People (1975), Working — I Do It For The Money (1977), and Leisure (2004)]. In his introduction to Leisure, photographer Gregory Crewdson writes: “Owens’ photographs belong to an American aesthetic tradition of art that explores the intersection of everyday life and theatricality. Like the paintings of Edward Hopper, the photographs of Walker Evans and Diane Arbus, and the short stories of John Cheever and Raymond Carver, Owens’ photographs find unexpected beauty and mystery within the American vernacular.”
     
While most RPCVs take photos, Owens has made it an art form. It is true that one of Bill’s photographs is worth a thousand words. And for that, and for his genius in capturing the host country nationals (HCNs) of America, Peace Corps Writers presents Bill Owens its first Award for Artistic Merit for his career in documenting on film the America society that created the Peace Corps.

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