Crème de la Femme

Photographer Bill Franz spotlights working women

By Joyell Nevins

Photo: Bill Franz’s photo, “Comfort is a Dancer” features professional dancer Comfort Fedoke, and is on view in the Women Working exhibition at Yellow Springs Brewery


A typical pitch by photographer Bill Franz, whose latest exhibit just opened in Yellow Springs: “First of all, anything I take belongs to you and me. Anything I sell, the money goes to the Humane Society of Greater Dayton.”

With those two sentences, Franz has gotten behind-the-scenes access into a myriad of places and events. He’s been in a candy factory, (almost) hung out of an airplane, seen a ‘fly farm’ (yes, someone raises flies for commercial use in the Miami Valley), and been part of a mythic glass blowers’ ritual. He’s watched a world-renowned dancer break it down, seen an NFL football made by hand, and gotten up close and personal at a rodeo.

“Before I retired (from the corporate world), I made a lot of money but didn’t know a lot of people,” Franz says. “Now I’m meeting a lot of people and having a ball.”

See some of those people—specifically women—he’s met and photographed in a special exhibition at Yellow Springs Brewery called Women Working. The black and white photos will be on display through Nov. 22. Franz appreciates the “freedom” and “more forgiving” eye of black and white photography.

His foray into photography started with the Humane Society. When he retired from corporate development—interestingly, his specialty was helping other business owners figure out how to retire—he picked up a nice digital camera. When Franz showed some of the photos he had taken for fun to a friend from the Humane Society, she asked if he could take some photos of the adoptable animals for their website.

Franz found hewwo really enjoyed the realm of photography and working with non-profits, but wanted to expand beyond just animals. So he recruited a team of six other people to take pictures for the Humane Society and started to reach out to other nonprofits. Franz has done volunteer photo projects for Shoes 4 the Shoeless, the Dayton Foodbank, the Dayton Visitors Bureau, and many other organizations.

“It’s been a quick way to grow my skills,” he says. “When you’re not charging for your services, there’s not a lot of pressure. People let you try new things.”

Women Working

The idea behind the latest exhibit at Yellow Springs Brewery came when he was in town to see a different show. He began talking to Lisa Wolters, co-owner and manager of the brewery, about showcasing some of his own work. As they brainstormed, the concept of Women Working emerged.

Franz had already started a personal photo project of photographing people where they worked, inspired by Lewis Hine’s classic shots. Hine’s photos, which include recognizable photographs of construction workers hanging atop skyscrapers or the Empire State Building, also provided impetus for child labor laws (he was one of the first to showcase how children were being exploited in factories in America). He was also moved by Pulitizer-prize winning author Studs Terkel’s observations.

“I would like to do with my camera what Studs Terkel did with his writing,” Franz explains. “He showed that work is more than a search for daily bread; it’s a search for daily meaning.”

The breadth of workplaces Franz has visited has covered the gamut. Some he just hears about and asks to come, some friends tell him about, and some places ask him directly.

He visited a factory in Akron, where they still make NFL footballs by hand. He’s been to the Winans candy factory in Piqua (which he said looks just like the I Love Lucy set for the chocolate episode). He visited behind the scenes of the horror park Land of Illusions, where they were “making monsters” through face paint, prosthetics and props.

Franz has photographed construction workers and fair vendors. He worked with a family who owns a carnival style sideshow where the brother is a knife thrower and the mother is a fire-eater. Her and her daughter’s photos are featured in Women Working. He caught on camera a bullwhip artist about to flick a rose out of his wife’s mouth.

Franz also was able to be a part of a glass blower’s ritual based on a legend—making the “witch’s ball.” At a studio where there are students from September to May, every September each student contributes a piece of blown glass to a giant glass ball. The tradition is that because there are so many things that can go wrong in a studio, this ball traps the evil spirits for the season. When May comes, the studio workers break the ball and let the spirits escape.

At all these places Franz visits, he gets an unusually close look at what goes on in that particular environment. He relates it to taking your kids to the zoo—everyone loves the zoo, but bringing your kids provides an excuse to go and really get into it.

“I get to go to somewhere like a rodeo and have a ball. You just wouldn’t go otherwise,” Franz says. “I get to, because I’ve got a camera.”

Franz notes that the quality of the camera is less important than the quality of the composition of the shot. He’s seen talented photographers take great photos with a simple point and shoot, paying attention to angles and light and other qualities.

However, Franz is quick to point out that he does not consider himself a professional photographer. He is still learning and growing and trying new ways on a regular basis. But after six years?

“Well, I’ve started to have fewer failures and more successes,” he smiles.

Women Working will be at the Yellow Springs Brewery, 305 N. Walnut St., through Nov. 22. An Artist Reception will be held from 4-6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7. For more information about the brewery, please call 937.767.0222 or visit To see more of Bill Franz’s work, like the
“Dayton at Work and Play” Facebook page.


Reach DCP freelance writer Joyell Nevins at

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Joyell believes in the power of the written word, a good cup of coffee, and sometimes, the need for a hug (please, no Tommy Boy references). Follow her on her blog “Small World, Big God” at or reach her at

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