Stuart Owen Fox
tuart Owen Fox was a leading professional photographer for over 40 years. Through visits to over 80 countries he produced over 1.5 million publishable images, 16,000 of which were commissioned to decorate the fleet of one Norwegian shipping company. Fox spent the equivalent of three normal lives throughout the world, as one of the leaders of the anti-Vietnam War movement in Europe, Denmark Artist of the Year in 1970 for his contribution to photography and in 1980 was the only photographer chosen by Kodak to celebrate the company's 100th year centenary. Over 1000 of his images were chosen for an unprecedented 144 page series of advertisements published throughout that year.
In 2000 Fox changed photographic direction. Forsaking the basic tools of his trade, the camera, film and processing chemistry, he began four years of research, development and experimentation with Direct Digital Imaging. The process involves placing compositions of natural objects on a flat bed digital scanner and the image is printed directly from the resultant computer file. Simple enough in principle but steeped in scientific theory. He even developed a method of scanning tropical fish under water.
The results illustrated here are visually and technically stunning. He presents many aspects of nature in a hyper-realistic scenario and has set a standard of artistic approach and accessibility that defines the beginnings of an explosion of digital imaging technology that is touching all of our lives.
It is with much regret that we mark the passing of Stuart in Amsterdam in late 2009 following the effects of a severe stroke.
A 20th Century Fox
by Stan d’Argeavel
In the early 1940s Stuart Owen Fox, while being walked by his father, met with the personal approval of possibly the most influential human being of the 20th Century. Albert Einstein patted the toddling Stuart on the head and passed the comment, “Nice boy,” to Stuart’s father and scurried off.
Stuart Owen Fox was not content with this brief encounter of the famous and influential kind and went on to travel the world as one of its prolific professional photographers and ‘being there’ at times playing a direct role in some of the defining historical movements of the last 60 years of the 20th Century.
Along the way he led three lives, firstly in the US as the budding apprentice to New York’s best photographers, secondly as one of the primary leaders of the anti-Vietnam war movement based in Denmark, and finally in Australia becoming one of this countries leading professional photographers.
Throughout this life he produced over 1.5 million images, 16000 of these for one Norwegian Shipping Company and over 1000 directly for the Kodak Corporation. His images have appeared in over 300 books, magazines from Organic Gardner to Playboy and in countless brochures and other printed and audio-visual forms until the present day.
He published so many images of his adopted neighborhood, Byron Bay on the North Coast of NSW, that he earned the verbal scorn of environmental activist and politician Ian Cohen, who publicly berated Fox for “ruin(ing) Byron Bay.”
At the beginning of the 21st Century Fox relinquished the tools of his trade. Cameras, film and processing chemicals are no longer part of his world, but making images is still his primary life-driving force.
He re-invented his approach to photography developing an entirely new method of producing images using a flat bed digital scanner. His visually and technically stunning images present many aspects of nature in a hyper-realistic scenario he calls DDI (Direct Digital Imaging).
And he has set a standard of artistic approach and accessibility that defined the beginnings of an explosion of digital imaging technology that is now touching all of our lives.
Stuart Owen Fox was born in 1942 in Southern California living in suburbs liked Westwood, Beverly Hills and Beverly Glen. His first job was as cub reporter on a San Fernando daily newspaper with a “Lou Grant’ like editor who demanded he cover the night’s basketball game when the regular photographer was nowhere to be found.
“You take pictures, don’t you?” asked the editor. “Sure I do’” said the young rookie, “Jobs were scarce, he expected me to take pictures, so I did.”
Armed with a Speed Graphic half plate camera, two sheets of film and a flashbulb unit, Fox sought the help of a rival newspaper’s photographer on the side-line at the game. The photographer set the shutter speed, pulled out the dark slide to enable exposure of the sheet of film inside and promptly left the game.
Fox took just one shot and because he didn’t know how to set the camera for a second picture, returned to the newspaper office to have the film removed and processed by somebody who knew how to do it.
The single shot was good and was published in the following day’s paper. When his Chief asked why he only took one shot when he expected two, Fox replied “I thought I could get it in one.” A self-driven crash course in photography from the camera’s instruction manual quickly followed.
In 1962 he arrived in New York to become a professional photographer. “I found a loft to live in with a bunch of hippies but at that time they weren’t called hippies, just locals. There were nine of us living in that loft, one black, one white, one Irish, one Jew, one this and one that.”
Fox knew that New York was home to America’s best photographers and he knocked on their doors saying, “I’ll work for you for nothing, I just want the experience. And they replied, ‘well come in,’ no-one rejected me.”
He has a healthy respect for cleanliness, a necessary trait for one spending so much time in photographic darkrooms, especially in other people’s darkrooms. New York photographer Ben Mitchell had Fox clean his darkroom and then inspect the job wearing a pair of white cotton gloves. “Then he would give me 100 sheets of 10 x 8 paper and say ‘Here print this a 100 different ways,’ and I would.”
Fox was bowled over by the beauty of the work of such photographers as Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Horn and Greiner and wildlife photographer Peter Beard. In a Greenwich Village cafe Fox spoke with his most revered photographic mentor, the late Henri Cartier-Bresson who told him of the discipline to be learnt from the sole use of the 50mm lens and of the intensity of purpose required to capture the essence of the moment.
Cartier-Bresson’s recommendation resulted in an invitation from Nobel Prize winning author Pearl S. Buck to travel to Japan with her to take the photos for her book The People of Japan. Buck was the only female ever to have won a Nobel Prize up until that time. This was an unprecedented credential for Fox and he instantly became an “almost famous” photographer.
While in Hiroshima, Fox was confronted by several loud, obnoxious young US military men. He was astonished to read their comments in the Hiroshima War Memorial visitors’ book such as “a bigger one next time you yellow bastards” and “wait till you taste our hydrogen bomb.”
“What’s going on with this,” outside Fox enquired. “Haven’t you heard,” they said, “ the North Vietnamese have attacked us in the Gulf on Tonkin.” Fox, trained to interpret information as a journalist, reasoned that there could be more too this. “These guys were told to say something, told to respond to an event which many years later proved to be fictitious.”
This was graphically illustrated in Errol Morris’ Academy Award nominated documentary the Fog of War in which Robert MacNamara, the then US Secretary of Defense, set the public record straight as part of an amazing confessional.
“That event more than anything catapulted me into the forefront of the Vietnam ant-war movement.” He couldn’t tell you why or how, but after Korea, whether because of his journalist background or intuition, he knew in 1964 that Vietnam was going to be an American nemesis, a disaster that would impact on American society for a very long time.
“I returned to the US and linked up with like minded people until the situation became too difficult for me. After being called up for Vietnam, I had to leave.”
So he went to Europe, to Scandinavia in general and Denmark in particular, and figured out how to stay there. In fact he was there for twelve years. “I did an Einstein, gave up my citizenship, like he did when he was called up for the military. Albert was stateless for six years, I managed seven.”
“I had been lucky enough to have worked for a Nobel Prize winner and Nobel Prizes come from Scandinavia. I was treated marginally better than someone just off the boat on Ashmore Reef or somewhere like that.”
Stuart Owen Fox became a subtly active leader of the Vietnam anti-war movement in Europe. The Danish Government eventually gave him citizenship and Fox became fluent in the Danish language in just three months, but not in the linguistic protocol. When he was introduced to the King of Denmark he was told his effort at greetings translated as “how are you, Mr. King,” much to the King’s amusement.
In Europe he pursued his photographic career based in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Museum as artist-in-residence where he photographed the Museum’s vast collection of works of art and objects of antiquity dating back to the Egyptians. In one instance, by photographic means he discovered that one of the Museum’s Gaugin’s had been over-painted, a fact they had not previously known.
He was named Danish “Artist of the Year” for his contribution to photography and went on to represent Denmark, and eventually Australia, at World Expos in Japan, Canada, the US, Spain and Brisbane.
In Denmark Fox played the dual role as artist and anti-war activist, fitting in with the necessarily covert nature of Danish protest. “Nixon had stopped trade with Sweden in retaliation for its criticism of America’s involvement in Vietnam.”
Denmark was supportive of Fox’s activities. He worked in theatre productions that were steeped in metaphoric criticism of the US involvement in Vietnam. And he had a small role in the Danish film of Henry Miller’s 5 days in cliché that was about making love, not war, and went on to win the Palme D’or at Cannes.
He was also the liaison person for people escaping the war, getting them jobs, permits to help them stay in the country and homes to take them in. He saw his role as saving souls opposed to war. Thirty-five years later Fox still maintains almost daily contact with a number of those he helped. “One US ‘grunt’ from Vietnam rolled up at my door in Copenhagen complete with the thousand-yard-stare that was so often to be found on war weary Vietnam soldiers.”
“This ex-marine told me he was leading a long range patrol and he saw some pretty horrible things, people thrown out of helicopters, five prisoners, throw the first three out, the fourth was ready to talk but couldn’t, so out. The fifth one talked.”
“I said, ‘come in, you must be hungry, I can give you a place to stay.’ And he was flabbergasted. He said ‘I thought you would hate me.’ I said there’s a huge difference between guys like you doing what they felt was the right thing and the people who sent you there.”
“I felt a little like a minor Schindler. But we did it behind the scenes because it was a very delicate situation,” he says calmly.
When Richard Nixon met his waterloo at Watergate, the Danish diplomatic community gave Fox the chance to return to the US on a special humanitarian visa. He stayed as a special guest of the Danish Embassy in Washington. This was the first time in twelve years he had been able to see family members, one of whom lives in Texas and ironically now works for the Bush administration.
A photographer’s dream commission from a Norwegian shipping company to photograph “the most beautiful places in the world” gave rise to some 16,000 of Fox’s images being purchased by the company for their fleet.
It also brought him to Australia for the first time and he returned to settle in Mullumbimby near Byron Bay on the NSW North Coast. He set about becoming one of Australia’s busiest professional photographers working in the much-revered Australian environment.
In 1980, Fox was chosen as the sole photographer to provide images and text for an unprecedented 144 page advertisement undertaken by Kodak Australia to celebrate Kodak’s 100th year. The ads ran in one of Australia’s foremost photographic magazines over a twelve-month period and included over 1000 of Fox’s images.
Two of his images appeared in this country’s seminal work on national identity, A Day in the Life of Australia published in 1981 which featured the work of over 100 photographers. Fox went on to publish a follow up work Beyond Black and White with Andy Park and Susannah Clark with a forward by Phillip Adams in 1995. The book’s displayed 250 images from a total of over 10,000 submitted by 150 photographers and highlighted the multi-cultural diversity of Australia.
A twist of fate bought two American patriots from complete opposite ends of the same spectrum, together, face to face in a country they had both adopted to escape their countries scorn.
David H. Hackworth was America’s most decorated military warrior with 110 medals including 8 Purple Hearts to his credit, surpassing even the famous soldier- turned-film-star Audie Murphy whose personal exploits were the subject of the classic war movie To Hell and Back in which Murphy starred.
There was to be no Hollywood glorification for this American hero who joined the army in the final year of the Second World War at the illegal age of fifteen. In 1970 on the eve of America’s planned incursion into Cambodia, which Hackworth was to lead, he rebelled, likening the action to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor or the Nazi invasion of Poland. His superior officer told Hack to shut up and sit down. And this was the beginning of the end for Americas’ most awarded military hero.
In an appearance on the American ABC Network program Issues and Answers that went on to win an Emmy Award, Hackworth spilled the beans on what he termed as the “whole stinking Indochina charade.”
Hackworth was in Vietnam with the Special Forces engaged in secret wars deep in the jungles well before America made its first official commitment to the war. And in 1965 he led the first US paratroopers back into the country and the conflict that Stuart Owen Fox had declared one year earlier was “going to be a huge disaster for America.”
Hackworth had pinpointed an area in the shadow of Mt Warning near the NSW Queensland border as the place most likely to be least affected by the nuclear holocaust he was convinced was inevitable.
Following the ABC television expose and after escaping the intense scrutiny of the CIA and perceived life-threatening scenarios that had befallen previous military whistle-blowers, Colonel David H. Hackworth left the US Army.
In 1971 he received an Australian immigration visa and settled within 20 minutes of Stuart Owen Fox’s Mullumbimby home.
Fox heard stories of an armed ex-US soldier entrenched in a valley near the aptly named Mt Warning. The valley was only accessible from one point, was supplied by deep underground water and was now reinforced by 25 years of guerilla warfare training. Fox’s journalistic streak and an obvious heightened interest in the opportunity to probe the other side of the war in Vietnam demanded that he set up a meeting with the ultimate warrior.
The result of that meeting and six months of regular contact was a major article in Australian Playboy in July 1983. Hack told Fox that he had dug a neat hole and dropped his past into it, and buried it. “I burned all the uniforms, and gave everything away that reminded me of the military – a library, medals, memoranda, having-been-there placques and so on. And then I set upon a new course with the help of a good lady, lots of friends, study and self-evaluation and started getting my trip together.”
Fox told Hack, “Well Hack, I didn’t go to Vietnam because I was a patriot, and he said ‘Well how do you figure that.’ And I said that I could see that it was really going to hurt my country, and I didn’t want to do anything that would hurt my country, and I thought that we are smart enough to find ways around this.”
That opened up Hackworth’s mind and confirmed the idea that you could approach the same problem from different sides and still feel the same positive thing but have a different approach to it.
It has been over 20 years since Fox first worked with Hackworth and the two were still in regular contact until Hackworth’s death in 2005. Because they had both done what they did, and they were both genuine in what they did in their own different ways, they had a deep mutual respect for each other. They just had different methodologies of achieving the same end.
Fox left America when he was drafted for the Vietnam War, realising that he would have gone to jail, as he puts it, “in a New York minute.” Hackworth left America, ironically, as its bravest son in fear of his life. The two patriots found common ground and both agree that war is “a mad game played out by mad people.” They both believe that their lives have taught them “anger is as destructive as war.”
Hackworth published his much acclaimed life story in 1989 in an outstanding book, About Face. On the dust jacket the book is described as a “blood-and-guts autobiography of the finest kind, with stories of great heroism and battlefield camaraderie that make the best war movies pale by comparison.”
On the inside cover of Fox’s first edition copy presented to him by Hackworth is a lucid and passionate dedication, “For Stuart, Warmest regards to my dear friend who kicked off this massive project with his great insight, wisdom and clear vision. Many thanks, David.”
Retired Colonel David H. Hackworth returned to America in the 1990s to embark on a personal mission to ensure that American troops are not put in harms way without proper support by way of training, equipment, leadership and a valid reason for being there.
He became the military commentator for Newsweek magazine and was currently a syndicated columnist for King Features with his Defending America columns appearing in media throughout the US, and the world on his substantial web sites.
Hack’s books are best sellers and he started an on-line movement called Soldiers For The Truth, a non-profit, grass-roots educational organisation, to inform the public, the American Congress and the media, on the decline in combat readiness of US armed forces.
Stuart Owen Fox lived in Australia and proudly continues to carry his Danish passport. He left his Mullumbimby property in 2000 and travelled to Cooktown to develop his Direct Digital Imaging process over a four-year period. Re-visiting his admiration for scientific truths, Fox employed the work of Sir Isaac Newton to solve the riddle of the lack of depth of field inherent in electronic scanners. He re-traced Banks and Solander’s steps in the Cooktown tropical forests digitally recording many of the beautiful indigenous plant species recorded by Sir Joseph Banks when Captain James Cook, was forced to stop-over in Cooktown.
After more than thirty years in semi-tropical and tropical climates, and a resultant life- threatening aversion to tick venom, Fox moved to Queanbeyan, almost a suburb of the nations capital, Canberra. Queanbeyan is one of the few areas close to a capital city in Australia that is relatively free of ticks. One more bite could cost Fox his life.
“That’s another story,” reflects Fox. “I was found to have the best example of tick-venom-infected blood in the country, so for ten years I became a guinea pig for the research program to develop an anti-veneen for the affliction. I was in line for the first dose of what would have been a lifesaver for people like me. But the Government cut the funding for the project, I guess there weren’t enough people dying from tick bite.”
On the subject matter of anti-war activism Fox feels the spirit has gone from the movement. “There aren’t many people doing a very spirited job. Michael Moore is about the only one. I don’t see anybody in Australia with that kind of involvement although Bob Brown shows some strong commitment to the protection of the environment, but he’s a politician.”
No longer able to cope with Canberra’s cold, dry climate Fox has gambled with his life and has returned to Mullumbimby to work from his DDI Studio that he established there.
He continues to produce and market his beautiful, extremely high resolution scanned images of nature that range from flowers and plants to insects, seashells and even fish scanned underwater.
Fox’s images can be seen and purchased only from Bungendore Wood Works Gallery.
Like David Hackworth, Fox is shedding his previous skin. He has methodically been reducing his material possessions down to a bare minimum. The unnecessary is set aside, given away to friends and acquaintances or allocated to the dump where many of his negatives, images and other evidences of an extraordinary life have literally gone up in smoke.
“I know that I’ve been there and done that, I don’t need to keep the proof. I’ve had an extremely successful and fulfilling life in photography, but that’s all in the past. The future isn’t even important anymore, just today.”
One could ponder on whether Stuart Owen Fox has finished making his footprints that can be found embedded in many of the remnants of events that have defined his life and the 20th Century. Watching an impish, laconic smile that so often slowly spreads over a time and experience worn face, one can only wonder.
Addendum: May, 2008
Fox finally decided to quit Australian shores and has re-located to Amsterdam in The Netherlands, just one of the countless cities he has experienced in a remarkable life. He continues to investigate the artistic and creative side of human existence in this city of importance, in so many ways, to Western history and culture.
It is with regret that we mark the passing of Stuart in Amsterdam in November 2009 from the effects of a severe stroke.