Laura Gilpin
Laura Gilpin was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 photographer known for her photographs of Native Americans
Indigenous peoples of the Americas
The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of North and South America, their descendants and other ethnic groups who are identified with those peoples. Indigenous peoples are known in Canada as Aboriginal peoples, and in the United States as Native Americans...

, particularly the Navajo
Navajo Nation
The Navajo Nation is a semi-autonomous Native American-governed territory covering , occupying all of northeastern Arizona, the southeastern portion of Utah, and northwestern New Mexico...

 and Pueblo
Pueblo is a term used to describe modern communities of Native Americans in the Southwestern United States of America. The first Spanish explorers of the Southwest used this term to describe the communities housed in apartment-like structures built of stone, adobe mud, and other local material...

, and her Southwestern landscapes.


Gilpin was the daughter of Frank and Emma Gilpin. Her father came from Philadelphia and was involved cattle ranching. In an interview she said her father was a friend of the great landscape photographer William Henry Jackson
William Henry Jackson
William Henry Jackson was an American painter, Civil War, geological survey photographer and an explorer famous for his images of the American West...

, although she does not believe that she actually met him until after she was well along in her own photography career. Her mother grew up in St. Louis and Chicago, and although she moved to Colorado to be with her husband she longed for the more cultured surroundings of big cities. Gilpin's birthplace was in a home in Austin Bluffs, some 65 miles (104.6 km) from their ranch at Horse Creek. This was the closest place that had a doctor, and since this was her first child Mrs. Gilpin did not want to take any chances.

In 1903, for her twelfth birthday. Gilpin received a brownie camera from her parents, and she used it incessantly for several years. She believed the year 1904 was a critical point in her life. Her mother sent her to visit her closest friend and Gilpin's namesake, Laura Perry, in St. Louis where the World's Fair was being held. Perry was blind, and it was Gilpin's task to describe every exhibit to her in detail. She later said "The experience taught me the kind of observation I would have never learned otherwise."

Her 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
New England Conservatory of Music
The New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, is the oldest independent school of music in the United States.The conservatory 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...

, from 1905-1910. 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
Gertrude Käsebier
Gertrude Käsebier was one of the most influential American photographers of the early 20th century. She was known for her evocative images of motherhood, her powerful portraits of Native Americans and her promotion of photography as a career for women.-Early life :Käsebier was born Gertrude...

. Later when she decided to become a photographer, Gilpin asked Käsebier if she would be her mentor. Over the years they developed a life-long friendship.

When family finances declined (and the hoped-for musical talent did not develop), Gilpin returned to Colorado. She soon became friends with an acquaintance of her family William Jackson Palmer
William Jackson Palmer
William Jackson Palmer was an American civil engineer, soldier, industrialist, and philanthropist.-Overview:...

, a railroad and military man who helped develop rail-related industries such as steel mills in Colorado. He instilled a love of nature in her by taking her horseback riding and educating her in the names of plants and animals.

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 (Betsy) Forster, to care for her, and Gilpin and Forster became friends and, later, companions. She 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. They remained together, with occasional separations necessitated by available jobs, until Forster's death in 1972. After Gilpin recovered she opened her own commercial photography studio in Colorado Springs. She was moderately successful for a while, but in 1927 her mother died. She was left to care for her father who by that time moved from job to job.

She lived for a while in Wichita
Wichita, Kansas
Wichita is the largest city in the U.S. state of Kansas.As of the 2010 census, the city population was 382,368. Located in south-central Kansas on the Arkansas River, Wichita is the county seat of Sedgwick County and the principal city of the Wichita metropolitan area...

, Kansas
Kansas is a US state located in the Midwestern United States. It is named after the Kansas River which flows through it, which in turn was named after the Kansa Native American tribe, which inhabited the area. The tribe's name is often said to mean "people of the wind" or "people of the south...

, working for the Boeing Company as a photographer of their airplanes. 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.


Gilpin said she made her earliest dated autochome
Autochrome Lumière
The Autochrome Lumière is an early color photography process. Patented in 1903 by the Lumière brothers in France and first marketed in 1907, it was the principal color photography process in use before the advent of subtractive color film in the mid-1930s....

 in 1908 when she was 17 years old. Since this process had only become widely available the year, she showed remarkable interest in photography for a teenage girl at that time. When she decided she wanted to seriously study photography, Käsebier advised her to go to at the Clarence White School
Clarence Hudson White
Clarence Hudson White was an American photographer, teacher and a founding member of the Photo-Secession movement. He grew up in small towns in Ohio, where his primary influences were his family and the social life of rural America. After visiting the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in...

 in New York City. She moved there from 1916–1918 and learned the techniques and craft of her trade. She deeply admired White, whom she later called "one of the greatest teachers I have ever known in any field". Her early work was in the Pictorialist
‎Pictorialism is the name given to a photographic movement in vogue from around 1885 following the widespread introduction of the dry-plate process. It reached its height in the early years of the 20th century, and declined rapidly after 1914 after the widespread emergence of Modernism...

 style, but by the 1930s she had moved away from the soft-focus look of that style. She found her true vision in the peoples and landcsapes of the American Southwest, and she published several books on the region. Like her mentor Käsebier she made her living taking portraits, but in the mid-1930s she began to receive critical acclaim for her photographs of the Navajo and Pueblo peoples and for her landscapes. By the end of that decade she was exhibiting photos in shows throughout the United States and in Europe.

She went to become one of the great masters of the art of platinum printing
Platinum prints, also called platinotypes, are photographic prints made by a monochrome printing process that provides the greatest tonal range of any printing method using chemical development....

, 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.

In 1974 the governor of New Mexico awarded her one of the first Annual Awards for Excellence in the Arts. She continued to be very active as a photographer and as a participant in the Santa Fe
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe is the capital of the U.S. state of New Mexico. It is the fourth-largest city in the state and is the seat of . Santa Fe had a population of 67,947 in the 2010 census...

 arts scene until her death in 1979.

Gilpin's photographic and literary archives are now housed at the Amon Carter Museum
Amon Carter Museum
The Amon Carter Museum of American Art is located in Fort Worth, Texas. It was established by Amon G. Carter to house his collection of paintings and sculpture by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell. Carter’s will provided a museum in Fort Worth devoted to American art.When the museum opened...

 in Fort Worth, Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...



  • The Pueblos: A Camera Chronicle, Hastings house, 1941
  • Temples in Yucatán: A Camera Chronicle of Hichen Itza, Hastings House, 1948
  • The Rio Grande: River of Destiny, Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1949 reprint
  • Land Beyond Maps, 2009 is an historical novel about Laura Gilpin's experience photographing the Navajo people

External links

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