Put A Bird In It—Featured Maker, Bowen Ames

Bowen Ames is a creative thinker. He’s also a photographer, stylist, art director, and prop maker. His background in theatre, art and writing has shaped his pathway towards ever changing mediums and projects, including working with some top brands like: Target, LÓRÉAL, NIKE, Adidas, Wieden + Kennedy, Atlantic and more.  We were delighted when he accepted the challenge to create a birdhouse for this year’s Put A Bird In It and look forward to seeing his approach for designing for the birds.

YPE Your hand is in a lot of things. What would you consider your daily focus? How do you make your living?

BA Its been a fortunate happenstance. The business aspect of what I do has comes to this point—right now I have clients who just get me and like my aesthetic. They let me take the reigns creatively on many different projects. I have no consistent industry that I work in. Last week I was styling a catalogue shoot in Seattle and next week I’m food styling a commercial. The only thing that connects the two of them is that I’m working with my hands and I’m in control of how things look.

I ended up doing the work that I’m doing because of my background in art. I graduated from the New School and tripled majored in writing, arts & context, and theatre with a focus on set design. My first job out of college was at the Guggenheim Museum as an exhibition technician. I often worked directly with artists to build things within the museums. That’s what I was doing for the five years before moving to Portland.  

YPE So what would you call yourself?

BA An art director and a stylus because it crosses mediums and industries. There’s always an art director in photography and agencies. The stylus is to keep my street cred and let people know that my hands are still in it, that I’m physically doing things and involved in the finer details. When I’m working for an advertising agency or a production company or directly with a brand, that title is the one people understand the most. I also like to say I’m a creative. Creative for hire.

YPE How did you get involved in being a stylist and working with video?

BA I thought I would continue working in museums once I got here but there were so few of them. I was friends with a lot of photographers from New York who had come out here for photo shoots, and they started to ask me to help. When I was on set for the first time I figured out the info-structure of what goes on behind the scenes—there’s an art director who oversees a stylus and a prop stylus and the photographer. That was my first understanding of the photo industry. I bounced around roles quite a bit really early on, after that I started to direct and art direct video.  

“I like to try on lots of different hats and I like to experiment with a lot of different mediums.”

YPE What are you working on right now?

BA I’m doing this video piece that I’m writing the treatment for. It’s about the concept of wanderlust—that innate drive towards traveling or towards wondering. I have always kind of hated the word because it often gets applied to me.

YPE Why does it get applied to you?

BA Because I move around a lot and travel a lot. I’m sort of an avid adventurer. I don’t like the idea of wanderlust because it means that to wonder is sort of like something you are lusting after. I don’t lust after it, I just like to do it. I like to try on lots of different hats and I like to experiment with a lot of different mediums. It’s not like I’m searching for anything. I‘m just enjoying it, it’s something I’m content with.

YPEWhat attracted you to the birdhouse project?

BA The freedom was the main thing. I’m always under huge time constraints on work for hire. This project was broader. My project turnovers are usually in production for no more than a week or two, and start to finish two months. When I got the notice for this, it was like four months and that’s amazing. I can learn how to do something new and get out of my comfort zone to create something that is small, tangible and has a great process attached to it.

YPE What inspires you to make?

BA I think that makers have this innate sense and drive towards understanding things in a physical and visceral way. As a kid I always wanted to understand things with my own hands, and own abilities. When I see an object, I want to pick it up. I want to understand it and how it’s made, and what it was made of—then I want to see if I can do it myself. I’m driven by the learning process. Thats everything to me, the learning process and being challenged by that process.