Gary Zellerbach and the Holos Gallery

[Based on an interview conducted October 2, 2007, by Michael Ward]

Gary was living in Los Angeles in the 1970's, working as a professional musician. His girlfriend at the time had seen the Museum of Holography in New York City, and convinced him he would enjoy seeing holograms. In late 1977 or early 1978 he visited the Odyssey Image Center, at the Burton Holmes, Inc. (BHI) offices on Sunset Strip, and was very impressed with what they were selling and what holography might do as a business and as an art form.

At that time the music business was becoming difficult. His grandfather had recently died and left him a small inheritance. Remembering the holography work he had seen earlier at Odyssey, he went to New York and visited Posy Jackson at the Museum of Holography, where he was shown impressive art pieces. Gary decided to open the Holos Gallery in early 1979, in a storefront in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. His first intention was to make it a gallery for holography as art, selling individual pieces for $500 and up; but the market for this was small, and as time went on the primary source of revenue became inexpensive trinkets, gadgets, and decorative items.

It was clear that the only way to make a living was to become also a wholesaler, supplying holographic products to other stores and galleries. He connected with the Multiplex Co. in San Francisco, an unusual collective of holographers and artists and just plain weird individuals, who supplied some of his most popular and best selling higher-priced holograms. Gary and several partners had a second gallery/store in Los Angeles for a while; he traveled regularly to LA, both for his store and to buy and sell products with many people and companies, including Robert Hollingsworth and John Foy (who worked there for many years) at BHI.

The store at BHI was fairly small, just a storefront with glass windows in which the passersby could see Multiplex Co. holograms spinning on display. Inside was a counter with racks and displays of inexpensive holograms priced to sell. Bob Hollingsworth was always ready to make a deal, and supplied many thousands of holograms, though Gary was initially uncertain where the holograms themselves came from. The biggest seller from BHI, as far as Gary was concerned, were the Rainbow Glasses, which gave the viewer a psychedelic color effect when looked through; but these were the very simplest holograms, using diffraction gratings mounted in cheap import frames. Gary eventually found his own sources of holograms, but continued to buy thousands of these glasses, which sold readily in his gallery. BHI also sold him a large number of dichromate pendants at the time he started his gallery, and these were also very popular items. (Dichromate, a tricky process which produces bright images viewable by ordinary light, was the method used for many of the cheap holograms produced in the 1980's; there were millions of them made. If you bought a small glass hologram pendant or watch during this era, it was probably a dichromate; but they are sensitive to moisture and over the decades many have degraded. Dichromates have been largely superseded today by embossed plastic holograms.)

Gary's last visit to BHI was in 1980 or 1981, at which time he bought more glasses—thousands and thousands of them. BHI and the Holos Gallery had no business relationship after that, and in the end Gary found his own sources for the glasses. While the Holos Gallery continued in business until 1990, when it was sold to its biggest competitor, A. H. Prismatic, Gary does not know when BHI ceased selling holograms and went out of business.

Today the holography business survives in high-technology applications and inexpensive embossed images for security and packaging. The holographic trinket business is dead, and the art and collector's market for holograms has never taken off. Many of the pioneers of the early art and commercial holography era have died, though some of the originators are still around. Gary himself, after selling the Gallery and becoming involved in some further ventures centering on holography, changed his career yet again. He followed up his long-time interest in computers and has, for the past ten years, been employed at Sun Microsystems, where he designs and manages high capacity electronic software distribution ("download") systems. He's still interested in holography, goes to occasional get-togethers of holographers, and wistfully hopes that some day it will live up to its early promise as an art form.

Much of the history of the early days of holography can be found in people's memoirs on the internet, including a number of fascinating comments about the Multiplex Co. in San Francisco, where Gary found some of most interesting art holograms and some of the most unusual holographic artists. The best treatment of the development of holography is Sean F. Johnston's recent book, "Holographic Visions" (Oxford University Press, 2006).