Member Showcase: Hillary's Journey from Photojournalist to Photo Camp Founder

Meet Hillary Sloss, a longtime Hivery member and shining example of a talented woman who used her expertise and skills to create something new in this world. Hillary was an accomplished and sought after photo journalist who had a harrowing experience that caused her to leave her career. After much exploration, hard work, and soul-searching, Hillary took brave, bold action in creating Firefly Institute, a photography camp for women. Read Hillary's story below. 

The Firefly Story by Hillary

My dad gave me my first camera at sixteen – a sturdy black Minolta. After my teenage years spent in photography classes and studying National Geographic magazines, losing myself in daydreams of the world inside that thick yellow frame, I was hooked on photography.

After college, I attended the oldest journalism school in the country at the University of Missouri, and one of the best (they kept telling us!). It's true I received top-notch training and landed sought-after internships and jobs at newspapers. At the time, photojournalism was very competitive and male (still is), with little tolerance for weakness or fear, but I was able to thrive. I had developed a toughness to survive in that often cutthroat and very male world.

I landed a job in Long Beach as a staff photographer -- perhaps the only photography gig with a salary and benefits. I loved it. Our staff was like a family and I was fortunate to work with many talented photographers, writers and editors. Our photo staff even won runner-up for a staff Pulitzer Prize while I was there. I covered the exciting Los Angeles news -- the Rose Parade, celebrities, politicians, World Cup soccer -- and had the privilege of entering into people's lives to tell their stories. But L.A. and Long Beach were also terrifying. I witnessed in person with my camera many of the horrors of urban life.

And then off-duty one evening, parked in a nice neighborhood, kissing my boyfriend in my convertible, we were held up at gunpoint by teenage boys in a gang.

Suddenly, I wasn’t so tough anymore. Several months later, I moved home to Northern California where I knew I'd be safe. I gave up my photojournalism career. And I stopped making pictures for 10 years.

Even though I started and ran See Jane Run, a stock photography agency specializing in pictures of active women, I wasn't photographing. Somewhere along the way the joy and spontaneity of my first Minolta had been lost -- and I didn’t know where to find it again. Thinking I was ready for something new, I went back to school to become a Waldorf teacher. 

I think this happens to a lot of us. We get scared, or we get tired, or we forget why we do what we do. Places and people and ideas that used to inspire us don’t hold power anymore. Even when we love learning and growing, we can find ourselves stalled. And sometimes, we don’t know how to move forward on our own.

In 2009, on a whim, I attended Squam Art Workshop in New Hampshire at a historic family camp in the woods with cabins, an exquisite dining hall, and docks on the lake. I took mixed media and painting classes. One hundred and twenty five people, mostly women, gathered to create art and share stories and live in a gorgeous natural setting for five days. This was what I needed all along! On the flight home, my mind was soaring: How great would it be to have a similar workshop with all photography classes? I scribbled notes in a wild brainstorm -- what teachers could teach what classes, evening activities to foster connection, cool speakers … and Firefly Institute was born!

Photography came back into my life. I opened an art photography studio at an artists' building in Sausalito, CA and took a job teaching photography at the San Francisco Waldorf High School (and loving it!). And I started planning Firefly Institute.

I knew from running two successful businesses that creating Firefly Institute wouldn’t be easy, but I’ve marshaled experience from a lifetime of professional photography, my training as a communicator and a teacher, the inspiration I’ve drawn from amazing workshops like Squam and Camp Shutter Sisters (now defunct), and happy weeks at childhood summer camps. It took me a long six years to find the right venue. The vision kept me going, though, because at a time in my life when I needed community and restoration, I found it. Firefly Institute brings that same energy to other female photographers.

Firefly Institute is a place to recapture the fun and creativity of photography -- with a group of kindred spirit women photographers  -- in a special environment that encourages us to stretch, experiment with something new, and remember the magic of using the ephemeral forces of light and time to tell our stories.

The Hivery is honored to have Hillary in our member community, and we're proud to announce the details of her photo camp! For you photographers out there, check out Hillary's website at Firefly Institute for details. 

Camp is November 9 – 13, 2016. Check out her camp video below (made in collaboration with another Hivery member, Kim Thompson Steel). 

Video by Hivery Member Kim Thompson Steel