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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

OWEN, A. Y. (1915–1991).

Many of the nation's premier magazines have highlighted their covers with photographer A. Y. Owen's pictures. Owen was born on October 20, 1915, in Cheyenne, Oklahoma, to Arthur Y. and Gertrude Owen. Named just A. Y. (he speculated that his father did not like his own name, Arthur Young), Owen graduated from Oklahoma City's Classen High School and went to work at Oklahoma Photo Supply. In 1936 he hitchhiked to Texas and worked for an oil tanker, traveling along the Atlantic Seaboard and the South American coasts. That same year, he returned home and acquired a job at the Daily Oklahoman and Oklahoma City Times, becoming a staff photographer the next year. In 1939 he joined Oklahoma native Homer Kellems on an ill-fated expedition to sail west to east over the "top of the world" around North America. The ship, Pandora, ran aground near Cape St. Elias, Alaska.

In 1940 the Forty-fifth Infantry Division, Oklahoma National Guard, activated, and Owen reported for duty. In his one year with the Oklahoma National Guard he photographed for the 45th Division News, which also had Bill Mauldin on staff. During most of World War II Owen served in the U.S. Army Air Corps as a lieutenant in the Photo Cadets, First Motion Picture Unit, whose captain was Ronald Reagan. When Owen returned to Oklahoma, he rejoined the Daily Oklahoman and by 1950 worked as a freelance photographer. In Oklahoma City he honed his skills and tried different techniques, including stroboscopic light, underwater cameras, and 3-D. He also displayed his love for the outdoors, photographing the state's natural scenes for the Oklahoma Planning and Resources Board and later for Oklahoma Today. His love for spelunking and rock climbing served him well in pictures he took in Oklahoma and around the world. He supported environmental conservation and in 1958 actively opposed the U.S. Army's unsuccessful attempt to add some of the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge to Fort Sill.

By the mid-1950s Owen was a nationally known photographer, taking assignments from Life, National Geographic, Fortune, Sports Illustrated, Time, and other publications. The magazines sent him on numerous journeys, including Tierra del Fuego, the Grand Canyon, and the swamps of Louisiana. Life published many of his images on its cover. He also shot portraits of Oklahomans Charles Coe, Danny Hodge, and Bud Wilkinson that appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Several authors published Owen's art in their books, and he was commissioned for other jobs, such as shooting still photographs during the filming of The Alamo, starring John Wayne. In 1968 Owen married Daphne McClure Davis. In 1972 he built a commercial studio in Oklahoma City, which he used as his base, and began to shoot advertising illustrations. In the mid-1970s W. W. Norton and Company assigned him to provide photographic essays on six states, including Oklahoma and Texas, in a series of American bicentennial books. In 1979 he photographed a narrated slide show, Roots of Oklahoma, which documented the creation of Charles Banks Wilson's murals of Oklahoma history for the State Capitol Rotunda. A. Y. Owen died September 16, 1991, in Oklahoma City.

Larry O'Dell

Learn More

"The Best of A. Y. Owen," Oklahoma Today 10 (Summer 1960).

Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 22 July 1939, 14 March 1946, 14 January 1962, 20 November 1977, 10 November 1979, and 19 September 1991.

Jean M. Devlin, "Photographing Life; A. Y. Owen Captured America's Moments," Oklahoma Today 41 (November–December 1991).

Kenny Franks, "'Goodbye, Dear, I'll Be Back In a Year': The Mobilization of the Oklahoma National Guard for World War II," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 69 (Winter 1992).

H. Wayne Morgan and Anne Hodges Morgan, Oklahoma: A Bicentennial History (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1977).


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Larry O'Dell, “Owen, A. Y.,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=OW002.

Published January 15, 2010

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