Art of War protests: 'If there are protests to document, I'll be there'

Art of War protests: 'If there are protests to document, I'll be there' »Play Video
One of Tim Owen's photos of a protest against the war in Iraq.

This is one in a series of stories about Eugene/Springfield and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars produced by students in Dan Morrison's NewsLab class at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communications. Morrison embedded with Marines in Helmand province in August 2010.

EUGENE, Ore. - Tim Owen has been taking pictures for a very long time. Since the 1980s, in fact – and he’s always made a point of paying particular attention (and plenty of camera time) to people or scenes with a message of peace to share.

Originally, it was musicians that he focused on the most. Reggae and African folk music were his standard.

But soon, his love for their message led him to ever-wider outlets of the same, from contemporary rock and roll to anti-exploitation and anti-war protests. If there was a compelling movement for peace and social justice, chances were pretty good that Tim was there recording it.

When the contested elections in 2001 happened, Tim's work really picked up.

When the tragedies of Sept. 11  happened, bringing with them tidings of war, his workload increased even more.

When President George W. Bush's administration started considering a war with Iraq, Owen's already high level of work practically started growing exponentially.

“As a photographer, I wanted to record these images because of the number of pre-war protests,” he said. “There were actually record numbers (at) protests. The war hadn't even started yet, and there were 40,00 people out in the streets on any given protest.”

After the Iraq War started, though, the story that Tim covered changed dramatically.

The number of protests dropped steadily, and when they did happen, they were much smaller, much more subdued.

Massive gatherings became a few dedicated activists standing on busy street corners. People went from hitting the streets en mass to coming to the streets in a trickle, if they came at all.

The reason behind the dramatic downturn in activity? According to Owen, it was largely the fault of dirty politics.

“Bush was not elected, basically – and so there was already a lot protests against the process of him even being President,” he said, “and for these decisions to go ahead around the war after 9/11 ... I think a lot of people kind of just threw in the towel.”

With the impending end of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars within a year, his photography opportunities might continue to decline even further. It doesn't mean that Oweb is done with photographing protests when the chance arises, however - though he does concede that he many not have any such chances anytime soon.

“If there are protests to document, I'll be there," he said. "Nothing much happening at this point.”