Shooting the American Dream in Suburbia

Bill Owens was seeking a fresh take on suburban life when he spotted a plastic-rifle-toting boy named Richie Ferguson

Bill Owens' photograph of Richie Ferguson in 1971 became one of the most evocative images in Suburbia, a collection Owens published in 1972. (Bill Owens)
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In 2000, nearly 30 years after his first portrait of Richie Ferguson, Owens made a second one of him for the New York Times. Ferguson, now a 43-year-old electrician, lives with his wife, Deanna, and their two children, ages 8 and 6, in Dublin, about a mile from where Owens first met him. He has graduated to a truly big wheel, a flame-painted Harley-Davidson motorcycle—a gift from Deanna. “I’d ridden dirt bikes as a kid, and when I turned 30 I guess my wife decided it was time for the real thing,” he says.

Ferguson has no memory of Owens taking the now-famous portrait. “My family had an original [print of it],” he says, “but I didn’t think it was a big deal. Kids don’t think about those things. I guess, to me, he was just a guy taking pictures.”

Now the more recent portrait hangs on gallery walls along with the original. “Bill calls me when he has an exhibition, and my wife and I always go,” Ferguson says. “When people see me in the picture, they treat me like I’m famous.”

Frequent contributor Owen Edwards is, like Bill Owens and Richie Ferguson, a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area.

About Owen Edwards
Owen Edwards

Owen Edwards is a freelance writer who previously wrote the "Object at Hand" column in Smithsonian magazine.

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