Taken in 1972, Bill Owens’ photographs from his Suburbia series document the post-World War II housing boom and the rapid migration from the inner-city to affordable, mass-produced homes in city outskirts. From a backyard barbeque to a young mother watering her newly seeded lawn, this selection of black-and-white photographs highlight the suburban domestic life of ordinary Americans. Owens worked as a photographer for an independent newspaper in the East Bay Area of Livermore, California where he witnessed an explosion of housing developments all around him and knew something unprecedented was occurring that he wanted to capture.
Between 1945 and 1980, an estimated 60 million Americans had moved to the suburbs. Owens’ photographs—and the lengthy captions that often accompany them—provide insight into this demographic shift, and the accompanying social, psychological, and cultural shifts as well. Focusing on his East Bay Area neighborhoods for example, one photograph and caption depict a father and son who share their perspectives on how the life-style changes of the 1960s affected their relationship; and two neighbors, after a long week of work, comment on how they would much rather talk and enjoy a beer than do yard work.
While social critics mocked the suburbs for their apparent conformity, materialism, and spiritual emptiness, Owens respected the liberation that many suburbanites felt, along with their determination to build better lives. He recognized that they were not just buying houses but investing in dreams.