Claire Henze



Artist: Henze, Claire

Title:   Waikiki, 1974

Description of the work:

The black-and-white photograph is a wide-angle shot of a corpulent woman in a one-piece bathing suit, floating face down on a raft. She has gotten hung up on the remains of a concrete block foundation that bisects the image. There are two other swimmers in the background that appear to be treading water and observing the woman. In the distance, there are a few waves whitecaps and in the foreground, the surf is strong enough to move the bather along and create a break against the sandy shore.

The few clouds low on the horizon indicate the sun must be out, however, the warmth isn’t reflected in the water. Rather than a sunny day at the beach, the image captures all the literal and metaphorical nuances of someone drifting along. The viewer can surmise any number of possibilities, but the mood of the image is decidedly somber with its shades black and gray and unsettling lack of crisp focus. A survey of other Henze photographs points to her pronounced use of bokeh, shallow, soft focus aesthetic, and cropped images manipulated during development. Several of those modifications can be observed in this image.

Artist’s Biography: 

Claire Henze was born in Pasadena, CA, in 1945 and died in 1993.  Although her death is recorded, where she died is not. Documentation about her life or her art is sparse. An archived article from the Pasadena society section of Los Angeles Time, 1961, reporting Henze home on vacation from the Tochter Institute near St. Moritz, Switzerland, would suggest a prosperous family background. There is one lone photograph of Henze taken sometime in the mid-1960’s posted on the website of photographer A.J. Meek. He indicates Claire was a fellow student at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles. A 1973 review of a number of artists in the Inaugural shows of the newly opened cultural center, The Women’s Building, in Los Angeles, includes Henze along with works by Judy Fiskin, Dianne Arbus and Judy Chicago. The reviewer noted in her article, Blowtorch satire Claire Henze’s image of a crippled child on the Chinese Theater’s s t a r-tracked cement is devastating.

Henze was a contributing author in an exhibition book, Confronting Cancer Through Art, 1987, by MD. Norman Cousins. Her brief, but poignant, commentary indicates she had contracted breast cancer at age 35 and was struggling with the disease. She writes that during treatment the black in her photography became a representation of the unknown terrors of both child and adulthood -a place where “detail is only partially revealed.”  Highly personal and private, Henze never intended the work for public display. There are also poems in the book dedicated to a son and daughter. A brief bio of Henze in the exhibition book cites only her birth date, that she was known for her photographic studies and was teaching photography at the Art Center College of Design.

Although the personal and artistic history of Henze is relatively obscure, LACMA has over 34 prints in their permanent collection and regularly includes Henze in exhibitions, side-by-side with other, more prominent artists. A black-and-white image, Nico, hand on back, 1981, was part of a rotation entitled Young, in October 2012 along side Lewis Carroll, Julia Margaret Cameron, Jock Sturges and Jan Saudek. The photograph was also the lead in their online blog, “Controversial Act of Taking Pictures of Children.”  Henze was listed in the 1993 Armory Center for the Arts exhibit ” PASADENA: A PHOTOGRAPHIC EXPLORATION. She died that same year at age 48.

The photography of Claire Henze can be found in the permanent collections of several recognized art museums and galleries around the country.


Signed: Henze 1974, graphite lower right corner, “Waikiki” in pencil lower left corner.

Dates and Dimension: 1974, Image 6 x 8 15/16”, Mat 20 x 16”

Medium: Silver gelatin

Accession and Acquisition: # 1980.22.08, Date: 1980

Condition: Good.

Provenance and Exhibitions: Unk. There is little documentation of the exhibitions in which she participated and nothing to verify this image was included in any.

Framed or Flat: floated mat, unframed

Current Location: Piece is part of the University Art Gallery’s permanent collections at New Mexico State University.


-Cousins, Norman MD, Confronting Cancer Through Art, 1987, Art that Heals, Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, UCLA.

-Zeiger, Melissa Fran, Beyond Consolation: Death, Sexuality and the Changing Shapes of Elegy (Reading Women Writing) 1997, Cornell University Press. Retrieved November 7, 2016 from: accessed November 6, 2016.

- accessed November 5, 2016.

-Librarian, Serials and electronic resources, Balch Art Research Library/Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

- accessed November 7, 2016

- accessed November 5 2016.

- accessed November 5, 2016.

– accessed November 5, 2016.

Reproductions: Copies are located at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angles, The Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum portfolio Silver See, and Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Researched by: Carleen Cirillo, 19 November 2016