Bill Franz debuts in Dayton and beyond
By Melissa Markham
Photo: “Made in America,” by Bill Franz
Behind every image lies a story. A simple facial expression captured by a camera’s lens holds endless tales of victory and loss, and there are so many stories yet to be told. What began as a pursuit of a popular hobby for photographer Bill Franz has transformed into a highly sought-after skill, and another method by which to tell Dayton’s stories. His debut show, hosted by the Dayton Society of Painters and Sculptors, began Friday, June 6 and continues through the month, giving the public the opportunity to see the residents and scenes of Dayton captured in a whole new way.
Though the art of taking photographs themselves was always enjoyable, Franz wanted to make sure his photos were contributing to the greawter good. He began by shooting events for local churches and nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity and the Humane Society of Greater Dayton.
“A lot of times, people have photography as a hobby and they just keep piling the pictures up,” Franz said. “I love being able to put my photos to work.”
Thanks to the wealth of how-to information available online, Franz has acquired new skills as he goes.
“Initial photography is so neat and you can learn it so quickly with the Internet,” Franz said. “You look up something you’ve never done, like maybe fireworks photography. You read three, four, maybe five articles on the Internet and go to YouTube and get some ideas and then you go do it; if it doesn’t work the first time, then maybe the time after that it does and you can see what you did wrong. [Photography] has a pretty fast learning curve.”
After an artist friend suggested he submit some of his work to upcoming art shows, Franz quickly found himself gaining recognition in the professional realm, as well as locally.
“I began by entering one photo in an exhibition in Springfield that was accepted, then I entered two things in an exhibition in Hamilton and they were accepted – then I entered three things in an exhibition in Pennsylvania, where an art critic from The Washington Post, Michael O’Sullivan, was judging – and all three were accepted. It’s been very exciting,” Franz said.
Though Franz enjoys photography in its entirety, some of his favorite photos to take, he said, are environmental portraits. These are photos of people in their natural environment acting as they would without an audience.
“They’re some of my best photographs because they capture people acting naturally, doing what they always do without me present,” Franz said. “These are people who didn’t think they’d be getting their picture taken today.”
Photographs of oily mechanics and petite elderly women making chocolates are just some examples of the striking portraits in his portfolio. One of his most famous photographs, titled “The Linemen,” captures three electricians fixing power lines high above the ground; the effect is breathtaking.
“I was driving back from the Humane Society and had my camera with me, but I couldn’t get very close because of a fence, so I walked up to the fence and held my camera over my head and just started shooting,” he said. “Upon first impression, a lot of people think it’s a religious shot, with the three crosses, but after they look closer they see the linemen. It’s probably my favorite photograph.”
In addition to contributing his work to both nonprofits and galleries, Franz runs his very own Dayton-specific Facebook project titled Dayton at Work and Play. On the site, Franz posts a photo just about every day of a person, place or event in Dayton and writes an accompanying paragraph explaining the story behind the picture. Franz encourages people to offer up suggestions of new places or events they think he should visit. “There are so many things going on in Dayton that most of us have no idea are going on,” Franz said.
“You go on vacation and you’re open to new things,” he continued. “You stop at any place that’s interesting and you go to interesting places to eat and drink, and what have you. But then you come back to town and you sort of fall back into the same thing. You hang out with the same people and you go to the same events. What I’ve been trying to do in retirement is break that [routine] and go to new places. Did you know there’s a Buddhist meditation temple in Huber Heights and twice a week you can go and join them for meditation without being a part of their congregation, and you’re led by a priest from Thailand? Or every Saturday night there’s a rodeo just south of town here? Because of Dayton at Work and Play people are telling me about all of these things I didn’t know about. It’s been a lot of fun. I try to be a Dayton travel photographer.”
When asked about his passion for photography, Franz said it was always something he loved to do, but couldn’t fully embrace until his retirement.
“I always enjoyed it, but I never really had time to do it,” Franz said. “Now that I’m retired, I’m finally getting to know the town I’ve lived in all this time.”
Bill Franz’s debut show will continue through Sunday, June 29 at the Dayton Society of Painters and Sculptors, located on 48 High St. His work will also be featured at The Hoyt Center for the Arts in New Castle, Penn., July 29 through Sept. 19. The title of the show will be Dayton at Work and Play. Kettering’s Rosewood Gallery will also have a show titled Dayton at Work and Play, opening March 8 through April 3, 2015.
Reach DCP freelance writer Melissa Markham at MelissaMarkham@DaytonCityPaper.com.