Tuesday, June 24, 2008
You Meet the Most Interesting People.
When I brought the mail in today there was in it an envelope from a New York art gallery. I opened the envelope and extracted a large card with this image on it.
I stared and stared. Great image, I thought. Then I thought, “it’s Bill, it has to be Bill, let it be Bill.” I turned it over.
I’ve always known about Bill’s photography because of his most famous work, Suburbia, a now-classic 1972 book of photographs that was reissued in 1999. To explain it beyond the title would be redundant.
But I know Bill Owens for a completely different reason.
Bill is the founder of the American Distilling Institute (ADI). ADI calls itself "the collective voice of the new generation of progressive beverage, medical, and aromatic distillers, and is dedicated to the mission of disseminating professional information on the distilling process." You can find out more at www.distilling.com.
There are quite a few fascinating people in ADI, and Bill Owens is one of them.
Bill is from Northern California. He began to mess around with cameras in the 1960s while in the Peace Corps. He later worked as a photographer for various San Francisco-area newspapers, but shot fine art photography in his spare time.
At some point, Bill also began home-brewing, then started a brewpub called Wild Bill’s. If not the actual first it was one of the very first brewpubs in the country. Then he started a magazine called American Brewer, a journal for professionals and home-brewers, which spawned a short-lived (1995-96) enthusiast monthly called BEER, The Magazine, for which I wrote a few articles about whiskey.
Born in 1938, Bill decided a few years ago to sell everything and retire. He quickly became bored and started the ADI, which now has several hundred members in 36 states and Canada. Bill has thrown himself into it completely, like he does with everything.
Bill’s other books of photography are Our Kind Of People (1975), Working - I Do It For The Money (1977), and Leisure (2004). The events at the James Cohan Gallery are timed to coincide with the release of a new book, titled simply Bill Owens.
Not long ago, Bill came across a black-and-white picture of himself as a very young boy, wearing nothing except a pair of jockey shorts. He wanted to share the discovery with all of his friends but felt it needed a companion shot of the boy today in, naturally, nothing except a pair of jockey shorts. He’s very fit for a 70 year old man, but I really didn’t need to see that.
Some time later I said something to him about it and his reaction was like, what else could I do? The boy in the first picture had required that the second one be taken.