For Claire Ganz, photos document a personal exploration

"Perfect." — Photo by Claire Ganz

Claire Ganz of Chilmark is in the midst of a rediscovery process. She recently moved to her family home, where she once spent summers as a child, and later on with her own children. She is reconnecting, not only with her family (she is living with her mother and father and one of her sons) but is also reconnecting with the Island and with her own heritage.

As part of this exploration process, Ms. Ganz has been taking photos around her family’s property in an effort to connect with the land, and also to understand her roots. Her series of a dozen framed photos are on display at the Chilmark Public Library where they will hang through February 22.

More than just a reflection of Ms. Ganz as an artist, the photos are a personal record of her discovery process. While other photographers may capture Vineyard scenes that simply appeal to them aesthetically, Ms. Ganz is documenting her life and her inner self through her photos.

On her website, Ms. Ganz says, “I am a poet and philosopher by nature.” These claims are evident in talking to the artist. When she describes her images, she focuses less on the scene, and more on the emotions evoked.

“For as long as I can remember, the natural world in Chilmark on the north shore of Martha’s Vineyard has called my attention,” Ms. Ganz said. “I find peace, clarity, acceptance, inner strength, and wonder in experiencing and noticing the shifting sights and sounds of life responding to the seasons, weather, and tides.”

The essence of the Vineyard, with its changing seasons, weather patterns, and environments is what the photographer has captured in her series of stunning images. However, each also delves deeper into the collective psyche.

The photos titles capture the mood evoked by the images. A scene of a storm on the ocean with a dramatic sky is called Resilience. Another seascape featuring a very unusual cloud formation is called Acceptance. A sunset over a peaceful cove is called Reassurance.

“For me, if there’s an overall theme, it’s the earth and the sky,” Ms. Ganz said. “What’s represented, but also the symbolism. They’re not the classic images. Not iconic Vineyard scenes. I explore where the grounded earth meets the temporary sky, noticing patterns that are familiar, but also noticing the difference. Noticing that the scene is always changing.”

Ms. Ganz, who originally set out to express herself through a book before she completed a six month mentorship with photographer Alison Shaw, has written an essay to go with each of the photos. All in all, the series provides a very personal record of the photographer’s life journey and her history with the Vineyard, which will resonate with the viewer, especially one with a connection to the Island.

“My mom was born and raised on the Island,” Ms. Ganz said. “Growing up, we were summer people. The Vineyard has been my touchstone for my entire life.”

The title of the library exhibit, her first public showing of her work, is Meandering in the Space Between. “I’m in the process of exploring what it means to come home as an adult,” she said. “You’re still in the middle of life. Things have changed, things haven’t changed. The woods of my life have grown taller.”

The space between refers not only to Ms. Ganz’s current life situation, but also to  her position in the community. Finding herself a transplant, but one who has long roots to the Island, has proven to be a bit of a limbo situation. “I grew up here,” she said. “I have relatives here. I feel grounded here, but it’s one of those things you can’t quite reconcile. You’re not quite summer people but you’re not quite Islanders either. You don’t belong to either world. It’s like you’re meandering in that in between place.”

However, Ms. Ganz feels a very strong connection with the Island. “I was always very anchored to the physical environment,” she said. Many of the photos were taken in and around on the familiar landscape of her family’s extended property: an area referred to as Ganz Cover near Seven Gates.

Ms. Ganz’s grandparents purchased the land in 1938. Her Vineyard roots extend back even farther. Her great grandfather, Frederick Clark, was a landscape painter on the Island in the early 1900s. “It’s eerie for me to be taking photographs of things that my great grandfather, who I never met, was painting,” she said. Ms. Ganz’s paternal grandfather, a pediatrician at Mass General Hospital in Boston, was much loved for his work here and who also helped connect the Island hospital with Mass General.

Her mother was a successful cartoonist. Her father was a professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Ms. Ganz enjoyed a career in biotech before moving to the Island. Her husband and her younger son live in New Mexico, while she and her 18 year old son have helped establish a multi-generational household here. “It was a confluence for all of us,” she said. “We all needed to be together and be here.”

Ms. Ganz is enjoying getting to know her family as an adult. Through her photography, she is exploring the shared human experience. “They’re illustrations for essays about perception,” she said. “We bring things from the past that can be a filter to enrich things, as long as we’re curious. I’m challenging myself to discover what filters I have, where my blind spots are.”

As someone who has a long history with one of the most untouched areas of the Vineyard, Ms. Ganz is in a good position to observe the physical changes of the Island environment, through her own observations and recollections of her family members.

On her website, she writes, “My father’s memories on this beach go back to 1938 when there were almost no trees. We notice the erosion of the cliffs taking down the hill where Dad proposed. We share moments within the landscape revealing our differences, broadening our understanding and appreciating the nature of things and one another.”

While connecting with her family, the community, and her environment, Ms. Ganz has created a wonderful body of work to share with others. Her past and present have given her a unique lens for capturing the essence of the Vineyard.

“I used to come to the woods to work out my frustration,” she said. “Now I’ve come back to these woods, the beach, and the Island to listen. I’ve come back to my family to learn who they are. At the same time, I’m learning who I am.”

Check out more of Claire Ganz’s work at