Stuart Owen Fox 1942-2009, was an influential photographer for over 40 years who took a shine at Seed Savers. In the early 1940s Stuart while being walked by his father in California, met with the personal approval of possibly the most influential human being of the 20th Century: Albert Einstein who patted Stuart on the head and passed the comment, “Nice boy,” to Stuart’s father and scurried off. He shot a range of pictures of us as a couple one of them is at the back of our Seed Savers Handbook. He also was our photographer for the general media. Along the years as he was a regular visitor of the Seed Gardens in Byron Bay. He produced a few posters for Seed Savers. 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. Stuart created our first calling card in sepia and with a seed ingrained. It is now and still at the back of our Seed Savers Handbook.
We were shocked when he arrived circa 1999 with pictures and negatives/slides in hand to leave with us, the leftover of incinerating most of his photographic library on the Byron Bay tip. It was a brand new beginning for his art.
Bunngendore gallery has this to say about him: 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.
Elk Anstey has this to say about him: Successful internationally renowned professional photographer 20th centuary Stuart Owen Fox was my chosen principal judge and jury for the photography section of the exhibition.
Mr Fox alias ”Foxy” never ceased to amuse an audience with an opportunity to unleash his charming wit and enliven his uncanny sense humour appearing on opening night in a long black robe, court room wig and holding a gavel.
Blessed are we all who have shared in your life.
A 20th Century Fox
by Stan d’Argeavel
Stuart Owen Fox was not content with this brief encounter of the famous and influential kind such as Einstein he 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.
In the US he was 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.
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.