Laura Gilpin

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Laura Gilpin
Laura Gilpin 1979.jpg
BornApril 22, 1891
DiedNovember 30, 1979(1979-11-30) (aged 88)
Known for Photography
Movement Pictorialism

Laura Gilpin (April 22, 1891 November 30, 1979) [1] was an American photographer.

Photographer person who takes photographs

A photographer is a person who makes photographs.


Gilpin is known for her photographs of American Indians, particularly the Navajo and Pueblo, and Southwestern landscapes. Gilpin began taking photographs as a child in Colorado and formally studied photography in New York from 1916 to 1917 before returning to her home in Colorado to begin her career as a professional photographer. [2]

Indigenous peoples of the Americas Pre-Columbian inhabitants of North, Central and South America and their descendants

The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the Pre-Columbian peoples of North, Central and South America and their descendants.

Navajo Nation Reservation

The Navajo Nation is a Native American territory covering about 17,544,500 acres, occupying portions of northeastern Arizona, southeastern Utah, and northwestern New Mexico in the United States. This is the largest land area retained by a Native American tribe, with a population of roughly 350,000 as of 2016.

Pueblo my name is jyden

In the Southwestern United States, the term Pueblo refers to communities of Native Americans, both in the present and in ancient times. The first Spanish explorers of the Southwest used this term to describe the communities housed in apartment structures built of stone, adobe mud, and other local material. These structures were usually multi-storied buildings surrounding an open plaza. The rooms were accessible only through ladders lowered by the inhabitants, thus protecting them from break-ins and unwanted guests. Larger pueblos were occupied by hundreds to thousands of Pueblo people. Various federally recognized tribes have traditionally resided in pueblos of such design.


Gilpin was the daughter of Frank Gilpin and Emma Miller. Frank was a cattle rancher from Philadelphia, while Emma grew up in St. Louis and Chicago. Although Emma moved to Colorado to be with her husband, she longed for the more cultured surroundings of big cities. When Gilpin was born, her parents had to travel to a home in Austin Bluffs, some 65 miles (105 km) from their ranch at Horse Creek because this was the location that was closest to a doctor. As this was her first child Mrs. Gilpin wanted to ensure the safety of her daughter in any way possible. [2]

Austin Bluffs is a summit in the Pikeview area of Colorado Springs in El Paso County, Colorado at 6,673 feet (2,034 m) in elevation. It is also a residential area, that was once a settlement and the site of a tuberculosis sanatorium. The University of Colorado Colorado Springs campus was moved there in 1965.

Gilpin enjoyed exploring the outdoors as a child, and her father encouraged her to go camping and hiking in the Colorado landscape. [3] Gilpin's father took several jobs during her childhood, and in 1902 he moved to Durango, Mexico to manage a mine. Several months after he moved there Gilpin's mother joined him, leaving their two children (Laura and her brother) in the care of the directors of Gilpin's school, Mr. and Mrs. William Stark. [2]

In 1903, for her twelfth birthday, Gilpin received a Kodak Brownie Camera (and later received a developing tank for Christmas). Gilpin used this camera incessantly for several years. She considered the year 1904 to be a very important point in her life. During this year, Gilpin's mother sent her to visit her closest friend and Gilpin's namesake, Laura Perry, in St. Louis. Gilpin was there during the great Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Perry was blind, and it was Gilpin's task to describe every exhibit to her in detail. They visited the fair every other day for a month, and she later said "The experience taught me the kind of observation I would have never learned otherwise." [4]

Brownie (camera)

The Brownie was a long-running popular series of simple and inexpensive cameras made by Eastman Kodak. Introduced in 1900, it introduced the snapshot to the masses. It was a basic cardboard box camera with a simple meniscus lens that took 2 1/4-inch square pictures on 117 roll film. It was conceived and marketed for sales of Kodak roll films. Because of its simple controls and initial price of $1 along with the low price of Kodak roll film and processing, The Brownie camera surpassed its marketing goal.

Developing tank light-tight container used for developing film

A developing tank is a light-tight container used for developing film. A developing tank allows photographic film to be developed in a daylight environment. This is necessary because most film is panchromatic and therefore can not be exposed to any light during processing. Depending upon the size and type, a developing tank can hold one to many roll or sheet films. Famous brands include Paterson, Yankee, Jobo and Nikor.

Louisiana Purchase Exposition

The Louisiana Purchase Exposition, informally known as the St. Louis World's Fair, was an international exposition held in St. Louis, Missouri, United States, from April 30 to December 1, 1904. Local, state, and federal funds totaling $15 million were used to finance the event. More than 60 countries and 43 of the 45 American states maintained exhibition spaces at the fair, which was attended by nearly 19.7 million people.

Rancho de Taos Mission, New Mexico Mission Church Taos LC-USZC4-3921.jpg
Rancho de Taos Mission, New Mexico

Gilpin's mother encouraged her at an early age to study music, and she was educated at eastern boarding schools, including the New England Conservatory of Music, from 1904-1908. On her first trip to the East her mother took her to New York to have her portrait taken by well-known photographer Gertrude Käsebier. Later when she decided to become a photographer, Gilpin asked Käsebier to be her mentor. Over the years they developed a lifelong friendship.

New England Conservatory of Music United States historic place

The New England Conservatory of Music (NEC) is a private music school in Boston, Massachusetts. It is the oldest independent school of music in the United States. The conservatory, located on Huntington Avenue of the Arts near Boston Symphony Hall, is home each year to 750 students pursuing undergraduate and graduate studies along with 1400 more in its Preparatory School as well as the School of Continuing Education. At the collegiate level, NEC offers the Bachelor of Music, Master of Music, and Doctor of Musical Arts, as well as the Undergraduate Diploma, Graduate Diploma, and Artist Diploma. Also offered are five-year joint double-degree programs with Harvard University and Tufts University.

Gertrude Käsebier American photographer

Gertrude Käsebier was an American photographer. She was known for her images of motherhood, her portraits of Native Americans, and her promotion of photography as a career for women.

When family finances declined, Gilpin left school and returned to Colorado. She enjoyed exploring the outdoors, and she would often visit General William Jackson Palmer, who took her horseback riding and walking around the surrounding areas of their home. On these excursions Palmer would teach the Gilpin about the plants, animals, and other wildlife that they would encounter, laying the foundation for her passion for the landscape, which would become the subject of many of her photographs. [2]

In an attempt to support her growing interest in photography, Gilpin started a business raising turkeys at her family's ranch. Her poultry business was widely successful and was featured in a Denver newspaper in 1913. [2] She was able to use the proceeds from raising turkeys to fund trips to the East Coast to further her skills in photography. While she formally studied photography on the East Coast, Gilpin worked on her autochrome skills whenever possible from home as well. She photographed everything from her chickens and turkeys to her brother and the landscape. She eventually sold the turkey operation and continued to push her photography career forward. [2]

In 1916 she moved to New York to study photography, but she returned to Colorado Springs in 1918 after becoming seriously ill from influenza. Her mother hired a nurse, Elizabeth Warham Forster "Betsy", to care for her. Gilpin and Forster became friends and, later, companions. [5] Gilpin frequently photographed Forster during the more than fifty years they were together, sometimes placing her in scenes with other people as though she were part of a tableau she happened to come upon. [6] They remained together, with occasional separations necessitated by available jobs, until Forster's death in 1972. [7] After Gilpin recovered she opened her own commercial photography studio in Colorado Springs. In 1924 the Pictorial Photographers of America awarded Gilpin her first New York show. [8]

Evergreen Cemetery, Laura Gilpin Evergreen Cemetery, Laura Gilpin.jpg
Evergreen Cemetery, Laura Gilpin

In 1924, Gilpin's mother died and she was left to care for her father who continued to move from job to job. Between 1942 and 1944 she lived in Wichita, Kansas, where she worked for the Boeing Company photographing airplanes. [9] She left there in 1944, shortly after her father's death, and returned to her beloved Colorado. She continued working and photography throughout the Southwest until her death in 1979. Gilpin is buried at Evergreen Cemetery, Colorado Springs, Elizabeth "Betsy" Warham Forster (1886-1972) is buried in the same cemetery but different plot.

Education and career as a photographer

Gilpin made her earliest dated autochrome in 1908 when she was 17 years old. [4] This photography technique had only become widely available that year, which is a testament to Gilpin's early dedication to photography. In 1915, she traveled to the Panama-California Exposition in San Diego and the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco expositions as a companion for a friend of her mother's. At these expositions, Gilpin developed an interest in sculpture, architecture, and native cultures. [10] She later recalled that "There was practically no art interest in Colorado Springs in those early days...I remember Harvey Young was the only painter in town and I don't think there was a sculptor. I knew nothing about sculpture." [2] Gilpin took a large quantity of photographs here, some of which became the first she had published. Her photograph of the Cloister at the San Diego Exposition became her first prize-winning photograph. She won a monthly competition that was sponsored by American Photography magazine in May 1916.

What interested Gilpin about architecture and sculpture was the way light interacted with the three-dimensional forms. Beginning in 1916, Gilpin lived with Brenda Putnam, a sculptor who was living, sculpting, and teaching in New York City at the time. Their time as roommates was the beginning of what would become a lifelong friendship for Gilpin and Putnam, who supported each other's work and discussed art often. Gilpin studied sculpture with Putnam, and would often photograph her works. [2] The two artists stayed in close contact even after Gilpin left New York for Colorado and New Mexico.

When Gilpin decided she wanted to seriously study photography, her mentor Gertrude Käsebier advised her to attend the Clarence White School in New York City. She enrolled in a 28-week course in October 1916, and greatly expanded her photographic knowledge and skill. She deeply admired White, whom she later called "one of the greatest teachers I have ever known in any field". [2] White believed that while taking a good photograph involved an investment in emotional feeling, a student could also be taught to take a good photograph. For White, being a good photographer was not something that was innate. [2] White also did not separate the notion of art photography and commercial photography. At the Clarence White School, Gilpin learned about photographic processes and alternative printing methods, including platinum printing, a process she would work with throughout her career. [11]

Gilpin spent the summer following her first school year at Clarence White School in Colorado Springs and then moved back to New York in the Fall of 1917. Shortly after this, she contracted influenza and was unable to take photos for six-months. She came under the care of Elizabeth Forster, a nurse, who became her lifelong friend and companion. When she was well again she began working and taking photos again but never went back to school and her period of formal study of art came to an end.

As Gilpin began her professional career in 1918 she received much support from her parents. [2] The subject matter of her early works included portraits of acquaintances and landscapes local to Colorado Springs. Laura joined a circle of artists in Colorado Springs that were associated with the Broadmoor Art Academy in 1919. Gilpin produced photographic brochures for the school. During this time, Gilpin's primary source of work was printing platinum portraits of local people who preferred the cost of photographs to having their portraits painted. In an attempt to focus on the natural spirit of her sitters, Gilpin preferred to use more relaxed poses and relied on soft natural light for these portraits. Laura spent 1920-1921 studying portrait sculpture in New York with Brenda Putnam in an attempt to improve her portrait photographs.

While Gilpin did submit still lifes and portraits to exhibitions and competitions, the larger part of Gilpin's success stemmed from the popularity of her western landscape photographs. [2] Her interest in the western landscape originated with her upbringing in Colorado Springs, but was expanded when she stopped in Santa Fe on the way to Mexico with her father and visited the Museum of New Mexico.

In 1922, Gilpin made a trip to Europe that later impacted her work. After this trip she began to respect and experiment more with sharp-focused photography, and became interested in creating photographic books after encountering the work of William Blake. Her experiences in Europe also expanded her knowledge of art and art history, and helped to solidify her identity as a western American individual. This experience with self-identification furthered her interest in the western landscape. Her work was enhanced by visits to the Navajo reservation in Red Rock Arizona where Elizabeth Forster had taken a job as a public health nurse. [12]

Gilpin is considered to be one of the great platinum printing photographers, and many of her platinum prints are now in museums around the world. She said "I have always loved the platinum printing process. It's the most beautiful image one can get. It has the longest scale and one can get the greatest degree of contrast. It's not a difficult process; it just takes time."

Over a thirty-year period from 1945-1975 her work was seen in more than one hundred one-person and group exhibits. Gilpin's work is archived at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona.

She continued to be very active as a photographer and as a participant in the Santa Fe arts scene until her death in 1979.

Gilpin's photographic and literary archives are now housed at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas.

Honors and awards


Individual and honor exhibitions

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  1. "Laura Gilpin | American photographer". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2018-06-18.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Martha Sandweiss (1986). Laura Gilpin, An Enduring Grace. Ft Worth: Amon Carter Museum. pp. 13, 30.
  3. Laura Gilpin: A Photographer's Life, a Gallery Guide for Young People. Amon Carter Museum.
  4. 1 2 Margaretta K. Mitchell (1979). Recollections: Ten Women of Photography. NY: Viking Press. pp. 120–122.
  5. Goldberg, Jonathan (2001). Willa Cather and Others. Duke University Press. pp. 148–80. ISBN   0-8223-2672-8.
  6. "Photography: Lesbian, Pre-Stonewall". Archived from the original on 2010-02-09. Retrieved 2010-06-03.
  7. Michael Ann Sullivan: Laura Gilpin 1891-1979 Archived 2011-05-19 at the Wayback Machine
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 Laura Gilpin: Retrospective. Santa Fe, New Mexico: Museum of New Mexico. 1974.
  9. Witkin, Lee D. (1979). The Photograph Collector's Guide . Boston: New York Graphic Society. p. 152. ISBN   0821206818.
  10. Martha Sandweiss (1986). Laura Gilpin, An Enduring Grace. Ft Worth: Amon Carter Museum. p. 20.
  11. Martha Sandweiss (1986). Laura Gilpin, An Enduring Grace. Ft Worth: Amon Carter Museum. pp. 28–30.
  12. Forster, E. W., Gilpin, L., & Sandweiss, M. A. (1988). Denizens of the desert: A tale in word and picture of life among the Navaho Indians. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.