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Photo Synthesis

4th of July Parade, Pleasanton, California

July 02, 2006|Colin Westerbeck

1971

*

Pausing before a print of this photograph, collector Paul Sack told me he'd always wondered whether Bill Owens was celebrating his suburban subjects or poking fun at them. Sack and I were walking through an exhibition of his photography collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art last year. I'd asked him to choose a favorite California image, and he picked this one precisely because it puzzled him.

A real estate developer, Sack collects photographs containing property that, he says, "could be owned or leased." With a picture such as Owens', this makes sense, though it seems a bit of overreaching when you're looking at the view Sack owns of Chartres Cathedral.

For Owens, this particular photograph has special significance. "It took me a year and three minutes to make it," he claims. On a 1970 newspaper assignment, Owens had arrived too late to photograph Pleasanton's parade. He probably hadn't been more than three minutes late (if you blinked you'd miss it). But since the subject was right for his planned book, "Suburbia," he returned a year later. As its middle-aged majorette strains to strut, followed by the walking wounded, the photograph represents perfectly the Spirit of '76 that America's ragtag citizen army embodied.

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