Circle of Blue's Carl Ganter Wants To Change How We Think About Water

When J. Carl Ganter, founder of Circle of Blue a global water initiative located in Traverse City, was 15 when he had an idea. His idea was about photojournalism, a career he had already determined would be his calling. And for a Traverse City 10th grader back in 1981, the idea was kind of big.

He decided to find mailing addresses for 30 New York City contacts in the photojournalism world—Pulitzer Prize winners, world-class shooters, agencies that represented people like that—and he wrote each with a request: Could he come to New York and hang out with them for a week while they did their jobs? “My mom said that if you write a letter, usually people will reply,” he says.

Twenty-eight people did not respond; one Pulitzer winner responded no, because Ganter could get hurt where he worked; and one said yes. The managing editor at Contact Press Images, one of the most prestigious photojournalist houses in the world, said okay. So he went there, with his mom and dad, since he couldn’t drive, and spent a week in a ringside seat at one of the most potent photojournalism shows on the planet.

What he remembers most happened on his second day there. It was Friday the week of Princess Diana’s wedding, and the editor invited Ganter to tag along as he went to negotiate with Newsweek and Time about which images they would publish in Monday’s magazine.

“Water,” Ganter says, “will be the greatest story of the 21st century, bigger than climate change, bigger than energy, bigger than security, because all of those issues intersect with water.”

“I was thinking, here they are choosing an image, a series of images, that millions of people would see, and it was so cool to come back to Traverse City and see Time on the newsstand and know that I had held that piece of film in my hand,” Ganter says.

He recalls feeling a sense of awe, naturally, but more important he remembers being impressed with a commitment he saw among the people he met, a commitment to tell important stories in distant corners of the world, stories that could also change that world. “This was the golden era of photojournalism, when magazines would send photographers to any important story. When real news appeared on the cover, when Time magazine could change policy at the national or United Nations level,” he says. And he had been in an office in New York where photo editors were curating and channeling and presenting that information.

Ganter’s first week in New York happened 29 years ago, but the elements of Ganter’s teen persona then on display— his self-confidence, his singularity of purpose, his ability to think big—and the belief in journalism he confirmed then are even more evident today as he pursues one of the most epic missions a man at the dawn of the third millennium could take on: Ganter’s goal is to dramatically improve how the world deals with water—as in the whole whopping, gigantic, humongous wide world.