P hotography is her most cherished pastime. She always tells the truth, even when people do not want to hear it – an unusual, even perhaps a bit risky, trait for a diplomat. La Traviata is her favorite opera, and she considers the second movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 as one of the finest musical compositions ever created. She likes Jane Austin, is fond of Russian literature – Dostoyevsky’s literary works, in particular – and also finds the literature of American writer and Noble Prize winner Toni Morrison very interesting. She loves hiking and mountains.
Holly Holzer Bass is known in Georgia as the wife of U.S. Ambassador to Georgia John Bass and as a diplomat in her own right. Photography for her is more a calling than a mere hobby. She has previously exhibited her photographs in Chicago and Katmandu. She has lived in Georgia for more than a year now and says the country’s varied landscapes provide the perfect stimuli for her creative work: majestic mountains, urban environments, forested valleys, the Black Sea…. She thinks of David Gareji as “a perfect place for a creative person.” Arriving there for the first time, she had the feeling that she was no longer in Georgia, but had wandered off to some distant desert. The unique pinkish hues of the winter sky were like nothing she had ever seen anywhere else.
The photo exhibition “Out the Left Window,” which opened in late March at Lado Gudiashvili Exhibition Hall, is clear proof of her creative stimuli.
Whether traveling by car or by bus, Holly Holzer Bass almost always takes a left seat and views the landscape first from that perspective. And indeed some of her photographs have been taken looking out left windows. The exhibition, and with it a long journey, starts with eight miniatures – bottles from the Aleksandre Chavchavadze wine cellar; forests of the Samtskhe-Javakheti region; autumn in Kakheti; the window of an old Batumi house, and more… There are portraits as well – people spotted in a marketplace in Baku two years ago when she lived in Azerbaijan; a photograph of a Kakhetian woman who showed her how to bake bread in a traditional clay oven – and an installation of a table laden with Borjomi mineral water bottles in a representation of a Georgian fast.
Those who travel often with her are accustomed to hearing: “Stop! I have to take a photo of that.” When she moved to Georgia, one of her first visits was to Samtskhe-Javakheti. She was intrigued by old gas stations of different designs. Some looked modern, others did not. To her eye, each one was unique and all of them “extremely beautiful.” That was at a time when gas stations were family-owned, which was expressed in the variety of their appearance. Today, all gas stations look alike, whether owned by Wissol, Rompetrol or any other company. Although she has photographs of as many as fifty different gas stations, only ten of them are on display at the exhibition.
All proceeds from the exhibition will go to support breast cancer awareness and treatment. Holly Holzer Bass and her husband are actively engaged in a nationwide campaign to raise awareness of breast cancer, which is the number one cause of death of women in Georgia between the ages of 14-49. She believes that early detection could change that statistic and, by holding the exhibition, she hopes to open a new window on the disease.
This article first appeared in Tabula Georgian Issue # 97, published 23 April 2012.