This month, I was blessed with the opportunity to have a conversation with still photographer Holly Bower. Being the first woman to become a member of the still photographers union, Local 644, Holly is well aware of the discrimination that women, particularly, face in the work world. Holly and I spent much of our time discussing how she has been discriminated against because of being a woman, and now, more so because she is 77 years old.
Although Holly has spent over thirty years establishing herself as a skilled photographer, working along side some of Hollywood’s most fascinating directors, she still finds that she is often times overlooked for opportunities to advance her career and express her other passions. Most recently, Holly has begun to pursue her passion for writing, and is seeking to have her screenplays produced. Though she has been met with much resistance, Holly is continuing to pursue her endeavors with great tenacity, even at nearly 80 years old.
Although I was very interested in Holly’s career as a photographer, she seemed more interested my my career as a female firefighter. She shared her story about how her Manhattan tenement apartment caught on fire, and she felt fortunate to have the New York Fire Department there to save her possessions. I felt such a kindred spirit with this amazing women. She possessed a resilience that I hope I am able to maintain thirty years from now. Holly brought out some amazing points during our phone conversation this month. I wanted to share some of the important lessons she shared with me.
Holly snagged her first job as a photographer while in a pub with a girlfriend of hers. While sitting at the bar she noticed a man flirting from across the room. She was surprised to find that this gentleman was flirting with her instead of with her friend. The gentleman was curious about Holly and began to inquire about her portfolio. A bold, fearless Holly shared her photos with this gentleman; unbeknownst to her at the time, this gentleman happened to be the art director for Diplomat Magazine. The gentleman was so impressed with Holly’s street photography that he hired her. After only six months of street photography, Holly was fortunate enough to earn a position as a staff photographer for an up-and-coming New York magazine.
Figuring that Holly attributes this opportunity to having her portfolio on hand a ready, I asked:
“So the moral of this story is be prepared.”
“No I think it is more about ‘being open.’” She responded confidently.
I pondered on the idea of “being open.” Here is a young woman, with no formal education, and she is being offered a job at a magazine with no real experience in the field. Most people in her position would have been terrified, or felt inadequate. Holly was open to the new experience. She put aside whatever fear and apprehension she may have felt and confidently opened her self to new possibilities. This opportunity gave her the experience needed to go on to freelance for bigger magazines such as The New York Times, Life, and Look.
2. DON’T LET ADVERSITY STOP YOU.
During my forty-five minute conversation with Holly, it was clear to understand that Holly had endured a lot of sexism in her industry. In the early 70s, Holly sued the Local 644, IATSE, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and received her union membership in October 1974. In 1980, Holly went on to become the first female Executive Board member of Local 644. Now that Holly has begun to seriously pursue her passion of screen writing, she is still facing discrimination. She says:
“Ageism is very much a part of my life now, and it was in my fifties, and it will be when you’re older. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s changing for the best…the agents don’t want people of a certain age. They want the young ones, so they can teach them and nurture them. They just want young talent. They are not interested in people, male or female, of a certain age.
All I want to do is get my film strip, Teach Me Tonight, produced. I want to get attention to my industry, and fight the ageism. Every Oscar year, I’ve observed these articles in the Times [and other magazines], asking ‘where are the women directors?’” Yet, year after year, nothing is ever done about [the discrimination]. So I’m determined lady, before I die, to get this thing produced!”
3.IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO RE-INVENT YOURSELF.
Holly is by nature a still photographer. After two years of working in film, she worked her way behind the scenes on the sets of Hollywood movies. Very pointedly, she states that working behind the scenes on movie sets is very boring for her. She went on to explain that since she has no formal education, anything she writes is challenging, and she enjoys the challenge. After her first film photography gig, Three Days of the Condor, Holly thought to herself, “I’ve got to write.”
Holly says that today you have to create your own luck, and your own market. The fact that Holly doesn’t have a formal education has not even been enough to stop her. She expresses that she feels that you learn so much more when you are self taught. After several decades of working in the still photography industry, Holly is ready to see one of her several screenplays produced.
One thing that Holly has done to get a buzz generated about herself and her work is create a short parody of a Viagra commercial she watched on evening. In keeping with her fight against ageism, she employs the skills of an older woman as her main character in this short parody, “Noodling ‘Round With Viagra.”
I was intrigued and encouraged by this amazingly talented woman. It was very insightful to converse with a woman of her age who exudes resilience in the manner in which she does. Check out the video below to see the latest project, “Noodling ‘Round With Viagra,” written and directed by the talented Holly Bower.
Check out her website at www.hollybower.com