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Culture Couch is WYSO's occasional series exploring the arts and culture scene in our community. It’s stories about creativity – told through creative audio storytelling.

Volunteer Photographer Captures Dayton At Work And Play

Photographer Bill Franz documents Dayton At Work And Play.
Photographer Bill Franz documents Dayton At Work And Play.

Dayton works. And Dayton plays. Everyday life may feel unremarkable for some. But for one volunteer photographer, it’s a wonderland of possibility.

Bill Franz has resided in Dayton for over 40 years. But in his retirement, Franz found photography. That’s when he began to really live in his hometown.

“I am just now getting to know the town I’ve been living in for so many years," he says. "When you’re retired and you have time, and you start investigating all the things the town has to offer, it seems like a much bigger place than it was when I was working—a much more interesting place.”

A retired business consultant and forward thinker, Franz began working out of his Oakwood home in the 1980s. Back then that was an oddity.

“Yes, now everyone works from their home. But that was novel enough that the newspaper did an article about us that we were doing projects for big companies, and doing it out of a converted bedroom.”

Franz has since retired the day job. But he never retired his forward thinking. Instead, he’s transferred it to photography and his popular Facebook page, Dayton at Work and Play.

“I’ve often thought it’s sort of like National Geographic comes to Dayton. My take on all the things in Dayton.”

Franz has found new life in what some have called a dying city.

"There’s a lot of pluses," he says. "The town has many problems too. But you know, it’s interesting. For every problem you can point to, you can also find some really good people working hard to do something about those problems. I’ve worked to help some of those with my photography in a small way."

Franz helps nonprofits like the Humane Society of Greater Dayton, where he donates the proceeds of his fine art photos and takes thousands of pictures of homeless animals.

“It helps them find forever homes quicker because they look more adoptable,” says Jessica Garringer of the Humane Society. "He comes out and does our biggest fundraisers of the year, which draws people in so that we can help more animals that way. His photos and his work, it does so much for our organization on many different levels. He’s an amazing person and we love him."

Vera Martin's photograph of her great grandfather Wally Willaman.
Credit courtesy of Bill Franz
Vera Martin's photograph of her great grandfather Wally Willaman.

But Franz is loved by more than the numerous nonprofits where he volunteers. Here’s his 10-year-old granddaughter Vera Martin.

“Well, my grandpa, I call him pop. He’s a very good photographer, so I learned a lot from him. And he lets me use his camera," says Vera.

“These are my favorite photos that Vera has taken," says Bill showing off two images. "And they are of her great grandfather.”

Vera’s great grandfather, Wally Willaman, is now 97. Vera was eight when she took the photos two years ago.

“You know, an 8-year-old granddaughter has an advantage," says Bill. "She can get him to pose in ways that I never could. And I just love these two pictures that really show his personality that Vera took.”

"I just said, ‘Go like this. And he did it. So that’s all I had to do,'" says Vera when asked how she got her great grandfather to pose for the picture. “I told him to cover his eyes. Like that. And he just did it. It was pretty easy. I am working on being as good as my pop. So that will be the graduation once I get there.”

In 60 or so years, Vera Martin just might be motivating the next generation of photographers just like her pop. But for now, she’s inspiring him as much as he’s inspiring her, helping her grandfather tap the childlike sense of wonder that allows Bill Franz to see Dayton through a new lens. One of work. And one of play. 

Culture Couch is made possible by a generous grant from the Ohio Arts Council.