"Wyoming to me is the place where I feel most connected to the Divine that is out there." - Cynthia Chace Gray
Cynthia Chace Gray was born in Japan and grew up primarily in Belgium, Switzerland, and Italy before moving to the United States for high school.
She went to college in Louisiana before moving to New York City to work as an editor for publications like Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, and Glamour magazine.
She moved to Wyoming 13 years ago to pursue her interest in photography.
She sat on the board of the Wyoming Community Foundation for six years.
• How Cynthia Chace Gray ended up in Wyoming
• The kind of photography Cynthia Chace Gray does
• Which photographers inspire Cynthia Chace Gray
• Why Cynthia Chace Gray loves Wyoming
• How to encourage women to get into politics
• How to accommodate women in the state legislature
Emy diGrappa: 00:08 Welcome to First, But Last?, brought to you by the Wyoming Humanities. I am your host, Emy diGrappa. Wyoming is called the equality state, because we were the first to give women the right to vote. 150 years later, we wonder what Wyoming women think about the progress toward equality now. Let's find out and thank you for listening. Today, we are talking to Cynthia Chace Gray. She is a professional photographer living in Sheridan, Wyoming. Welcome, Cynthia.
Cynthia Chace G...: 00:43 Thank you. Happy to be here.
Emy diGrappa: 00:45 Well I am very intrigued that you're a professional photographer, but first, I want to ask you where'd you grow up?
Cynthia Chace G...: 00:52 So in a nutshell, I was born in Japan and spent several years there and then moved to Europe. Grew up primarily in Europe, in Belgium and in Switzerland and in Italy, and came to the United States to go to high school. After high school I went to college in Louisiana, New Orleans, and then moved to New York and was an editor for, uh, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, and Glamour magazine for several years before I moved to Greenwich, Connecticut and got married and had kids and (laughs), so that's my, that's my life in a nutshell in one sentence (laughs) and that's the elevator speech.
Emy diGrappa: 01:29 Oh, good. There, there's a lot there though. Oh my gosh, so what was your journey to Wyoming?
Cynthia Chace G...: 01:36 So about 40 years ago, I came out to Wyoming to a guest ranch and fell in love with the Bighorns. Spent a lot of time camping and, and horseback riding up in the mountains, which I love to do and just fell in love with it and came out for several years and then life happened back East, you know, family, kids, work, blah, blah, blah, so didn't have a chance to return.
About 12, maybe 14 years ago, a friend of my son's called and said, "I'm working at a ranch in Wyoming. You guys have gotta come out and visit." So we went out for a week and stayed for a month and then I took my kids back East, got them back in school, came out for a weekend, went up in the mountains for about four days and decided I was still in love with the Bighorn Mountains, and so I needed to find a place here, and looked and found a wonderful old ranch that had been built in the 1800s of limestone, which was carved out of the Missouri River, and bought it and spent, uh, two years renovating, rebuilding the entire ranch, and, um, settled there and had my daughter who graduated from high school, brought her out and my son was in college, so, um, yeah. I left New York and Connecticut and Florida and moved to Wyoming.
Emy diGrappa: 02:53 And what do you, what do you find intriguing about Wyoming?
Cynthia Chace G...: 02:58 So one of the things about Wyoming, well, that really speaks to me is sort of this thin veil. I'm, years ago, someone mentioned to me, said the thinnest veil is the place on Earth that we are the most connected to the divine, and for me, it's the Bighorn Mountains. It's Wyoming. Wyoming to me requires, not requires, but maybe demands a certain vulnerability from us as people, right? When you're really vulnerable, whether it's in a relationship with another person or with something, you become, you open up your heart. You open up your space and allow that to come in. And Wyoming really demands that, and as you become more open to Wyoming, to the vastness of open space and to the different seasons that are here, the people that are here, you just become, your heart opens up more to it and you see more of it. You see all of it has to offer to you, an incredible beauty that Wyoming has. So that really spoke to me here, was just this vastness of, of land and sky and, and incredible, incredible beauty. So that's, and the thinnest veil, again, sort of the place that I feel the most connected for me to that divine that's out there.
Emy diGrappa: 04:18 I, I really like that. I haven't heard that description before, so that's very [inaudible 00:04:22].
Cynthia Chace G...: 04:18 (laughs)
Emy diGrappa: 04:23 Tell me about your work, Cynthia. You're a professional photographer and what kind of photography do you do?
Cynthia Chace G...: 04:30 So most of my, most of my photography is landscape photography, ironically Wyoming, large landscape. That's, uh, predominantly what I do. This books that I'm doing it's about sacred spaces and sacred places. I've had the great opportunity to travel all over the world and experience different cultures and seen and try and capture the essence of the divine wherever I go, whether it's, uh, people in prayer or it's a landscape or it's whatever that is, that's kind of my photography. I'm not, not a wedding photographer. That's a certain type of person. I'm not a portrait photographer, but I try and just capture the essence of the moment. I think Claude Monet had a great quote. I can't think of it off the top of my head, but, um, I can certainly look it up and send it to you, whatever, but it's about capturing, the artist captures that particular moment and that's what I, what I do. I see it and I'm able to capture that.
Years ago, when I was working in New York, friend of mine told me, said, "You know, you see things differently than most people." I was like, "Really?" (laughs) and she said, "Yeah," and I was like it's taken me a long time to figure that out, but I kind of do see things a little bit differently. And maybe it's because I've had this vast experience living all over the world and experiencing different cultures and speaking different languages that has given me a, a richer tapestry, right, to work with?
You know, I, I'll, I'll give you an, an anecdote. I was, took a class at ICP in New York one year, and, um, there were about eight of us in the class. Our teacher said go outside, photograph this fountain at Grant Park, come back in. You'd think everybody's picture would be the same, right? Not one picture was the same. So I realized that none of us see everything through the same lens. We all see life through our own personal lens, whatever that is. So that personal lens is our life experience that we put on, whether it's a movie or it's a, it's a situation, whatever it is, it's all of our life experience that we bring to the table every day, whether we're conscious of that or not. And we see things differently. You'll look at something and you'll see something and I will see something different in that, because of my life experience is different from your life experience. This is where I'm rambling (laughs). This is where the editing's gonna have to come in (laughs).
Emy diGrappa: 06:58 You're doing great. I think you have an interesting story. I'm curious about how you became an editor and, and how, uh, at, what did you say, Vogue?
Cynthia Chace G...: 07:09 Yeah, I started as an assistant editor at Vogue, and worked there for a couple years and then I was promoted to editor at Glamour magazine and then I was an editor there for a few years and then I got hired by Harper's Bazaar magazine to be an editor there, so I had the great opportunity, worked with some extraordinary editors, people like Polly Mellen and, uh, Vera Wang and other people like that, and to work with extraordinary photographers, Irving Penn and Avedon and some of the other great, Patrick Demarchelier and some of the great photographers, so that was a great experience for me to be able to be a part of that world and work with fantastic designers and, um, create stories and create looks and things like that, so it was a very interesting time and, um, New York was buzzing like it always is and I had the great opportunity, as I said, to work with extraordinary people that taught me so much, so that was a fantastic experience for me.
Emy diGrappa: 08:13 Who has inspired your life work?
Cynthia Chace G...: 08:16 Oh, I, you know, I, I don't know the answer to that question, to be honest with you. I love different photographers. I mean, you know, people always go back to the traditional ones like Ansel Adams. You know, we love Ansel Adams. And a friend of mine a- actually someone who I've traveled with a lot on different expeditions, Chris Rainier, is amazing photographer, and he was actually Ansel's assistant for many years at the end. But I don't know, I see different things in different artists and I won't say there's one in particular. I think as artists, we take from, we, we take from life what we see, and we're inspired by other great work, but not necessarily to mimic it. Does that make sense?
Emy diGrappa: 08:58 Yep. That's very true.
Cynthia Chace G...: 08:59 But to create our own, right?
Emy diGrappa: 09:00 Right, right.
Cynthia Chace G...: 09:01 It's to create our own-
Emy diGrappa: 09:01 Sure.
Cynthia Chace G...: 09:02 ... our own space and what we see [crosstalk 00:09:04], and living in Wyoming and being here is that, I mean, what you just walk out your door, you take pictures (laughs) I mean, it's extraordinary place to be. It's like, it's like a smorgasbord every day. It's like oh my God, this is incredible, everything between from the people to the landscapes to all of it, it's just, it's incredible place to photograph.
Emy diGrappa: 09:25 Well, as you know, right now we're celebrating Wyoming being the first state to give women the right to vote.
Cynthia Chace G...: 09:32 Yes.
Emy diGrappa: 09:32 And so I want to hear some of your perspectives, not, now that you've lived here ... How many years have you lived here?
Cynthia Chace G...: 09:40 I have lived here I think it's been 12 or 13 years now, full time.
Emy diGrappa: 09:44 Okay.
Cynthia Chace G...: 09:45 Which is like nothing in Wyoming, I mean, you know, it doesn't count unless you've lived here for four generations, but, you know (laughs) we're trying (laughs).
Emy diGrappa: 09:54 Well I was go- I was gonna ask you that. Do you feel like an outsider or an insider?
Cynthia Chace G...: 09:59 I feel like an insider now, and the reason why is when I first moved to Wyoming, I had the incredible opportunity to join Leadership Wyoming. I don't know who proposed me, but I was eternally grateful to that person. Being involved Leadership Wyoming from the very beginning was a fantastic experience. I met some amazing, amazing people in Leadership Wyoming that have become dear friends and I truly appreciate that, that experience. It was really extraordinary, and it continues to be extraordinary. That, that coalition of people throughout the state is just, it never ceases to amaze me, the capacity that that institution has.
So that was fantastic from the beginning for me, and then I got the opportunity to join the board of the Wyoming Community Foundation, and, uh, had the opportunity to serve on that board for about six years, which was really an incredible experience, again meeting, you know, amazing leaders and people in the state of Wyoming and really understanding how Wyoming functions, being able to ... Leadership being able to travel around to all the different counties and meet different people, the leaders in each county, and then in the Wyoming Community Foundation, to look at Wyoming from a philanthropic standpoint of the amazing, amazing generosity that's in the state of Wyoming and the support that Wyo-
I will say Wyoming's like this. So let's say you're living in Wyoming and every's one's kind of bickering and fighting. You've got different towns. We don't like each other, whatever, and it kind of goes back to, to school, you know? You have teams, they compete against each other and that kind of stays whatever and it's very ... Wyoming's very siloed and very territorial. It's just kind of the way it functions, right? But Wyoming people are exceptionally proud people of who they are as Wyomingites. And if you travel and you're in an airport and you see someone with a Wyoming hat on, you're like, "Hey, Wyoming," inevitably, inevitably you know, you travel with someone in common that you know. It's like a family where we can all, you know, bicker amongst ourselves, but don't you dare criticize us (laughs), right?
Emy diGrappa: 12:11 No, that's [crosstalk 00:12:12]
Cynthia Chace G...: 12:11 So that's kind of how I see Wyoming. It's like we're this big family. I mean, wherein I lived in Buffalo and wherever I lived, it's sort of everybody's willing to help, you know? Your mailbox blows down and somehow it, it resurrects itself. The neighbors just come and do it and that's the way Wyoming is. Wyoming people are very independent. They are very thoughtful. They are very proud and fierce, right, because we have to deal with these extreme weather conditions, especially the wintertime. And incredibly supportive. And it's a really, it's like a big, giant family, and everybody, I always tell people, I say, "One thing you gotta understand about Wyoming, everybody knows everybody," right? It's not a state where it's like you have to go through a hundred layers to find another person. Like, pretty much everybody knows everybody here, at least if not directly by one person removed, right? So-
Emy diGrappa: 13:05 There's only 600,000 of us, so that-
Cynthia Chace G...: 13:05 Exactly.
Emy diGrappa: 13:05 (laughs)
Cynthia Chace G...: 13:09 Exactly, and then you remove the small children and whatever and it gets to pretty small numbers. And I've met some extraordinary people and have made some wonderful, wonderful friends here in Wyoming and I just I love the state of Wyoming. I'm fiercely proud of it and, um, you know, work very, very hard to see it be successful in whatever, you know, it's going through tough times right now. And we all, we all pull together. If we all pull together, as we all pull together, we, we pull through.
Emy diGrappa: 13:41 So-
Cynthia Chace G...: 13:42 And I think that's incredibly important for us.
Emy diGrappa: 13:44 Yep, I do too, and I think that as I want to go back to what I was talking about Wyoming giving women the right to vote, the first state to give women the right to vote, and there are many [crosstalk 00:13:56]
Cynthia Chace G...: 13:55 Yep.
Emy diGrappa: 13:56 ... for that, but as we are celebrating and commemorating women's equality, how do, how do you picture Wyoming, as, as a women living in Wyoming, and what do you, what do you think we've done right and what, what do work do we have to do?
Cynthia Chace G...: 14:14 Wow, that's a, that's a huge question. So many layers (laughs) [inaudible 00:14:18]. I think the tradition of Wyoming and the women I have met in Wyoming, from women who drive massive combines, in coal mines, who are ranching 24/7/365, who are, you know, raising families ... Wyoming women are really strong, strong women. What I'd love to see is more women in Wyoming coming forward and, and having the opportunity to serve in the legislature. I think the legislature is a little bit, well, not a little bit, it is disproportionally men. I think we could do a lot better there and have more representation across the board in the Equality State.
I think that the work that the Wyoming Women's Foundation is doing is really opened a lot of people's eyes to the disparity of [inaudible 00:15:14], right, and I think that's an very important thing to address. Again, you said it earlier, we're only 500,000 people in this state. We all need, everybody needs to pull together and work together, not to isolate a group of people because they can't afford it or they can't do it or they don't have childcare or they have to balance three jobs at the same time. Well whatever, whatever it is, we all need to come together. And women in Wyoming are a big part of the backbone, right? So are the men, but we all work together to make a better state, and to exclude a group of people because for whatever reason it doesn't seem like it becomes the Equality State. Does that make sense?
Emy diGrappa: 15:56 Yes, but I'm wondering, do you, do you have opportunities to work with other women or even mentor young women?
Cynthia Chace G...: 16:05 I do. I do, and I enjoy that role very much of working with women, of mentoring women, of encouraging women to step up, of encouraging women (laughs) ... You might have to edit all this out, but encouraging women, I think to be, and Stan and I have spoken about this, to be a little bit tougher, especially the women, some women who want to run for office, and just women in general, to stand up a little bit harder. I feel like we've kind of gone back to the 1950s for women in Wyoming, sort of the Ozzie and Harriet type of thing. While we overlook the women who are working incredibly hard, it's, um, we've allowed a sector of, of Wyoming to kind of dictate behavior and it's like well that doesn't work, you know?
Emy diGrappa: 16:51 Yeah.
Cynthia Chace G...: 16:51 This is the 21st century, for God's sakes, you know?
Emy diGrappa: 16:54 Right.
Cynthia Chace G...: 16:55 Let's move into that. Let's not, let's not go backwards here. Let's move forward, and how to encourage that? How do we encourage young women and older women, all women, to say yes, to run for politics, to be able to stand up to the rigors of politics, especially today where it seems to have gotten pretty ugly. Let's, let's not have to do that. Let's not have to do that in Wyoming. I mean, why are we, why are we attacking each other at the throat in Wyoming when we don't need to? When w- uh, we actually should be embracing each other and saying okay, let's help each other get through this. Let's help each other get better, be [inaudible 00:17:30] state, more Equality State. We could do that, but for some reason, it's sort of gone sideways a little bit.
I think it's also a maybe ... I was talking to someone yesterday. Maybe it's about a little bit of assertiveness training. It's, it, women teaching women to say look, it's okay for you to be called a bad word. It's okay for you to be whatever. If you're gonna compete in that arena with, with guys, you need to be tough and this is how you toughen up to do it. I think that's important and I don't know that in mentoring women we've done enough of that. I think we've given them a lot of tools, but I don't know if we've given them the tool to stand up to say how do you push back in a polite, respectful way, but in a no-uncertain-terms way.
Emy diGrappa: 18:20 Right.
Cynthia Chace G...: 18:20 I think women are kind of you have to behave within a certain role and I don't think we necessarily need to behave within a role at all. I think we just are human beings, and we need to look at it as human beings.
Emy diGrappa: 18:36 You know, that's a really interesting perspective on that, and it seems like there's some really great women's organizations across the state.
Cynthia Chace G...: 18:46 Yes.
Emy diGrappa: 18:47 And it'd be, it'd be-
Cynthia Chace G...: 18:47 Yes there are.
Emy diGrappa: 18:48 ... like if we, if we brought all those organizations together and had conversations together about women's roles and, and what we need to do to lift up and encourage young women to think about office, to think about how they navigate in politics as a mother, because, you know, that's-
Cynthia Chace G...: 19:13 Yes.
Emy diGrappa: 19:14 ... a barrier for a lot of women. Once you start-
Cynthia Chace G...: 19:17 Yes.
Emy diGrappa: 19:17 ... taking care of your kids, that's what you're doing, and it's hard to drive all the way to Cheyenne.
Cynthia Chace G...: 19:21 Yes it is. Women are also incredibly capable of doing that. That's the thing, you know, it just because you have kids or you're a single parent does not disqualify you from any of those roles, and I think people need to hear that message. They need to understand yes, you can do this, and yes, it's possible, and yes, we're going to create an environment where we're going to help do that. I think that's very important, and I, we have the capacity again, I go back to it's not ... I never want to see it to be us versus them in any way, and I think when we start phrasing ourselves that way, it creates this division that's really awful, and we need to be ... To me, it's sort of we're all in this together. Men and women, we are all in this together, and we need to work together to make a stronger and better and more viable Wyoming. How do we get there? By just what you were saying, Emy. We have groups get together and really drill down into the practicalities of the issues.
Emy diGrappa: 20:25 That's right. That's right. That's, that's really good. Well, it was great talking to you today. I really appreciate your time, Cynthia, and-
Cynthia Chace G...: 20:32 Oh, you're so welcome. No, and the questions kind of was prepared for all these things (laughs).
Emy diGrappa: 20:35 You're so funny. Like we're going be on the phone for an hour. No, no. I, I just wanted really for people to get to know you and that's the whole point of First, But Last? is that we hear lots of different voices and stories from women all across Wyoming, so it's been such a pleasure.
Cynthia Chace G...: 20:56 Yes. Let me ask you a question. What do you hear as let's say the top three prevailing stories? I mean, when you synthesize these stories together, what are the top three concerns or what are the top three things that you hear?
Emy diGrappa: 21:12 Well, when it comes to women running for office, and the barriers have been really interesting, because we live in this big state. We have hard winters, and the legislature meets in the winter.
Cynthia Chace G...: 21:31 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Emy diGrappa: 21:33 And that women are caretakers. They are the nurturing person in their family for their children, their parents.
Cynthia Chace G...: 21:42 Mm-hmm (affirmative), sure.
Emy diGrappa: 21:43 Well that becomes a barrier in terms of when women can run for politics.
Cynthia Chace G...: 21:51 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Emy diGrappa: 21:53 And when, you know, when they can run for office and when they can serve in different capacities, and I think Clarene Law, I had a great conversation with her.
Cynthia Chace G...: 22:03 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Emy diGrappa: 22:04 And she's uh, it really took a lot of family sacrifice for her to be [crosstalk 00:22:11]
Cynthia Chace G...: 22:12 Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Emy diGrappa: 22:12 But at the same time, they make a huge difference, because-
Cynthia Chace G...: 22:18 Yeah.
Emy diGrappa: 22:19 ... the other thing that people talk about is that we need a woman's voice.
Cynthia Chace G...: 22:23 Yes.
Emy diGrappa: 22:23 We need her perspective. We need that [crosstalk 00:22:26]
Cynthia Chace G...: 22:26 Yes.
Emy diGrappa: 22:27 Because we're different, and so the other thing that, that really came up, but yeah, so anyway, Cynthia, I really appreciate your time, and-
Cynthia Chace G...: 22:37 Can I make, can I make a suggestion?
Emy diGrappa: 22:40 Yeah, go ahead.
Cynthia Chace G...: 22:41 So maybe with all this, when this is, all your interviews are done or halfway through, maybe we can, maybe we can do this. Maybe we can look at what, what are the obstacles, so I, when I hear that the meetings are in winter, why could we not change that to summertime? Everyone's in Wyoming in the summertime, hunting season hasn't started for whoever hunts and whatever, and more family members around. The kid are not in school, so chances are they maybe can do camp or they can do some other things that, and it's easier, kind of organize them in the summer time. We- the roads are much easier to go back and forth on. You can actually go to Cheyenne and drive back the same day-
Emy diGrappa: 23:23 Right.
Cynthia Chace G...: 23:23 ... in certain places in Wyoming.
Emy diGrappa: 23:26 Right.
Cynthia Chace G...: 23:26 Why not change it to summertime so we can accommodate more women in the legislature, so uh, it maybe it's identifying specific things, like three specific things that we can ask and t- push on, and maybe demand, stomp our little, you know, Manolo black shoes on the desk, and push back to say we need more women in legislature. We know that. That's important because women have a very distinct voice. These are the things that's gonna have to happen for us to be part of this, and we want you guys to be part of this conversation. We wanna have this conversation with you, but this is how to include us in, this is how we need to have some movement here. And I don't know if that subject's ever been brought up to them.
Emy diGrappa: 24:14 I don't either. I don't either, but I want you to make a note of that and, um, we'll come back around to that after-
Cynthia Chace G...: 24:20 Yeah.
Emy diGrappa: 24:20 ... I have an opportunity to ...
Cynthia Chace G...: 24:22 Yeah, and then maybe it's in the summertime, if we could do it in the summer, maybe there's a camp. All the kids that are children of legislators can go to camp somewhere, that the state pays for, the communities pay for, whatever, and they're looked after for a period of a week or two weeks. They have summer camp for ... You know, so there are different ways ... I was talking to Mandy Fable about this, because you know, so much of we ... People look at the, we're look at a cliff or something, go, "Oh, no, nope, can't do that. There's a, there's a wall there." It's like well, how do we get over that wall? What's on the other side of that wall?
So many times, we come up against, "Well, they said no." And I was like, "That's just a response. Just because someone says no doesn't mean that there's not another answer there." How do we get them to say yes? How do we move that, and I, I think if we as women in Wyoming can look at that and go okay, how do we move this around? How do we change that so these are our obstacles? How do we change those obstacles? We're, because we're, to me, we're looking at that through a different lens. I go back to this life lens. Let's, let's change the lens, see what it looks like, I don't know, in a different lens. See where the other answers are and go, "Well, this might be an answer here," and let's push on this.
Emy diGrappa: 25:38 Well, when you mentioned lens, that reminded me that I want to ... Give us your website where we can look at your photography.
Cynthia Chace G...: 25:46 Mm-hmm (affirmative). [crosstalk 00:25:47] Uh, cynthiachacegray.com.
Emy diGrappa: 25:49 Okay, excellent. Well thanks, Cynthia, and I just hope you have a beautiful day. I really appreciate your time.
Thank you for listening to First, But Last?, brought to you by the Wyoming Humanities. Please join us again next week as we continue our conversations with women from around the state. You can also find us at thinkwy.org, where we continue the conversation on our blog about the history, journey, and the challenges of Wyoming's intrepid women living in the Equality State. And if you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe to the show and leave us a review on iTunes. Thank you for listening.
“Wyoming to me demands a certain vulnerability from us as people.” - Cynthia Chace Gray