By Virginia Dean, Standard Correspondent
Photographer Joanna Garbisch travels around the world several times a year, not because she seeks a fast-paced life, but rather, just the opposite.
“I’m not comfortable in crowds or urban spaces,” said Garbisch in a recent interview. “I prefer peace and quiet to the noise of everyday life, so I’m happiest when I can get as far away as possible from manmade landscapes into the natural world.”
Indeed, as reflected in her photographs in a current exhibit at the Norman Williams Public Library, her work over just the past 10 years includes the panda, Arabian camel, fur seal, snow monkey, leopard, greater flamingo, and zebra, and the mountain gorilla, among many other representations of wildlife and even primitive cultures throughout the world.
“The mountain gorilla is a gentle giant when seen in its natural habitat,” said Garbisch of her visit to Bwindi, Uganda, where she photographed the Silverback in 2010. “Photographic opportunities are available to groups of no more than eight people for only one hour a day under strictly supervised conditions.”
With the chance to sit on the ground within 20 feet of them, Garbisch was able to take a close-up head shot, featuring the Silverback’s dark brown eyes, flared nostrils and conical shaped head with well known pronounced bony crest on the top and back of its skull underneath its black fur.
“Hiking into the mountains is not always easy but very rewarding once the trackers have found the ever-moving groups,” said Garbisch. “They may approach you but you cannot approach them. What you will see are several mothers with youngsters of various ages interacting peacefully with each other while the Silverback sits to one side and observes.”
The present NWPL exhibit features mostly animal black and white and color shots but, as Garbisch noted, she is just as happy photographing landscapes, flowers or people.
Her interest in photography began at Smith College where Garbisch was handed a Polaroid camera for an art class. After earning her bachelor’s degree from the Northampton College in 1959, she was hired two years later by Polaroid’s color lab in Cambridge, Mass. From 1962-1972, she worked as a freelance photographer in Concord, Mass., and from 1972-1980 was employed by two architectural firms in the Boston area for promotional work.
For the next 25 years, Garbisch served as the Vice President of a Maryland nonprofit firm specializing in wetland restoration. There, she photographed native plants for book publication and lectures.
But, after a quarter of a century of water and flat farmlands, Garbisch and her husband were ready for a landscape with trees and mountainous topography.
“So, Woodstock was it,” she said. “I’ve been on the same road for 29 years with no regrets.”
Upon her retirement in 2005, Garbisch moved to Vermont where she had first arrived in the early 1970s when introduced to horse clinics at the Green Mountain Horse Association and nightly dinners at the White Cottage.
Even though Garbisch’s early photographic training was in black and white, her experience in the color lab at Polaroid conditioned her to see in color.
“I’m very conscious of quality of light, color and sound,” said Garbisch.
While at Polaroid, Garbisch took a course with noted American photographer and environmentalist Ansel Adams who taught her how to compose through the lens of the camera without cropping.
“That’s something I try to do whenever possible,” said Garbisch.
Over time, Garbisch’s camera and equipment have changed greatly from the days of print film, large bodied cameras with heavy long lenses, and various other attachments to the last three years when she has reduced her digital equipment to one small multifunction camera that she can hand hold without a tripod.
“Yet, it has the capability for not only close-up (macro) photography but excellent telephoto versatility, too, particularly for birds and faraway landscapes,” said Garbisch. So far, Garbisch has traveled to all seven continents. Her most exciting trip, she related, was in 2001 on a Russian nuclear icebreaker across the top of the world with 100 passengers and a Russian crew. There, they stopped in the ice at the true North Pole and had a celebration off the ship on the ice. The ship then departed from Murmansk, Russia, and three weeks later, arrived in Pevek, Siberia.
“When I travel, it gives me a chance to get back into photography,” Garbisch said. “But no matter where you go in the world, there is always something of interest to photograph.”
The Garbisch exhibit will run until Aug. 14 at the Norman Williams Public Library.
This article first appeared in the July 20, 2017 edition of the Vermont Standard.