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One Photographer's Personal Story: Owens Daniels comes from behind the camera to speak with us

​Owens Daniels -- Bold, Creative, Innovative -- is a visual artist/photographer based in Winston-Salem, NC, and the face behind ODP Art & Design.


He describes himself as a hybrid North Carolinian from Richmond, Va. In 2005, his company transferred him from Virginia to Lexington, NC, where he worked as a food service director. A turn of event got him into the Winston-Salem jail and after time there he made Winston-Salem him home. He has an affection for the City that’s familial: he embraces it for all of its beauty, as well as its flaws.


His portraits reflect the soul of his subjects - their pain and suffering, their love and elation, their hopes, uncertainties and desires. He is influenced by African American photographers whose body of work reflected Black life in America. His leadership and prominence in the Winston-Salem arts community was recently publicized by local media outlets for his work with the End Racism Now Community Mural Project.


But Owens was making a statement through his art and photography way before the pandemic and before the recent national outrage against injustices against black and brown Americans.


He took time to speak with Snapdragon Journal about his artistic journey and what inspires and motivates him.


Exploring photography


This self-taught photographer has photographed more than 100 people. He started taking pictures in 1976, while serving in U.S. Army at Ft. Belvoir in Fairfax, Va.


Owens shares, “I was trained as a cartographer to make maps and part of my training was to learn the basics of photography. During my off-duty hours I would frequent the recreation centers on post that had darkrooms. It was there, by developing my first roll of film and printing it, that I fell in love with photography.”


Tina: Whose work did you admire and were influenced by?

Owens: I am impacted by the street, African American lifestyle and documentary works of Gordon Parks, Roy DeCarava, Ming Smith, and Louis Draper, a co-founder of the Kamoinge Workshop, a collective of Black photographers founded in 1963 in New York.


Tina: Why are you drawn to photography as a medium?

Owens: I am in love with a picture and what it communicates about the times and experiences in which it was formed.


Tina: What purpose does art serve in your life?

Owens: Art allows me an unfiltered communication line to the world of which I find myself of which I let the world know I am here and this is what I experience.


Art as a statement


Tina: A lot of your work expresses political and/or social justice statements - was your art always influenced in this way, or did it evolve in this way?

Owens: I was born in 1959, a time of civil rights and social justice. All of my day-to-day was consumed by the newspaper and magazine reports about the movement, its leaders and supporters. The visual language of pictures to tell a story and seeing Black people was beautiful - people fighting to just be a citizen sticks with me until this day, and is in all my work.


Tina: Tell us about Dear WS, One City.One Love

Owen: Dear-WS™ project unites us virtually, even though we may see one another as being either human or an adversary. We may be temporarily apart, but we are always “One City. One Love.,” for our unity is the cure.


It feels like the world has become contaminated and we all are the cause - and even though we are experiencing it all together on a global basis, locally we are still neighbors, friends and family.


The purpose of this project is to bring us all together virtually so that we may know we are not isolated and alone. We aim to highlight the faces of our community during a time when we might not acknowledge them in passing, at the grocery store, the coffee shop, on the street, at work or at play. Participating in this project also provides an opportunity to support those who need our help right now.


As a visual artist/photographer, typically I spend hours and days capturing images of the world and the people around me, documenting the common things that bind us in times of challenge and triumph, portraying the human experience. Those moments of our expression are still happening in our world right now, but we are trapped in our homes, and for the most part I cannot be there to depict them.


Tina: How did Faces of the Pandemic come about?

Owens: Faces of the Pandemic evolved from my earlier work Dear-WS. Both projects spring from the idea of a city facing COVID 19 alone with empty streets, closed stores and no one around to see the city die. I wanted to find a way to express my feelings about this so I started carrying my camera with me and took candid pictures of people on the streets. So that residents of the Triad could express their thoughts through pictures and words. These photographs and personal messages speak back to the City, "We have not forgotten who we are and who you are to us."


Tina: And what's your takeaway?

Owens: People are afraid, frustrated and confused, from government to citizen. No one wants to catch the virus and no politician wants to be blamed for acting rashly. The other side is I have found that the golden rule of "love your neighbor" is happening through supporting local businesses, neighbors checking on neighbors, and everyone having a real concern about one another.


Tina: How have people responded - what have they shared with you when they see or participate?

Owens: The community's responses have been overwhelming, with active participation in the project. Also, everyone I photographed wants to share some advice, thought or just feeling about what they and the world around them are experiencing at the same time.


Tina: How have you been handling the pandemic?

Owens: The pandemic has me in hyper drive - documenting this time and creating a family album of our moments in time. My personal life has been one of observation in that I see my world shifting from stagnant normality to eruptive change in my culture, traditions and perceptions about normal.


Healing through art


Tina: As we conclude, will you share with our readers what you think about "art and healing?"

Owens: I found healing through the art of what I am doing. To be honest, I am not sure of the correct answer about healing through art. The arts are measuring steps I and others take toward healing with the world -- creating art and documenting the global pandemic so that we all can feel better, and we all can one day heal.


To learn more about Owens' work, visit his website at owensdaniels.com.



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Snapdragon: A Journal of Art & Healing, a publication of The Word Project

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