(1891 – 1979)
A remarkable consistency of vision links (Laura Gilpin’s) sixty years of work. Whether printed on platinum or silver paper, her pictures are characteristically infused with a soft, luminous light and composed with a simple, classical elegance.
– Martha Sandweiss
For more than 60 years, Laura Gilpin earned her living as a photographer, balancing commercial jobs with the work she loved most: making pictures of the Southwest and its Native people.
Even before leaving for New York in 1916 to study with Clarence H. White, Gilpin photographed the landscape of her native Colorado. Later, she became interested in the history and archaeology of the region and photographed the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico and their ancient ruins.
Gilpin’s early Southwestern pictures reflect the influence of her training. The pictorialists placed greater emphasis on the evocation of mood than on detail and favored the soft, delicate grays of platinum printing papers. Thus, Gilpin’s soft-focus platinum prints of Mesa Verde and her sweeping landscapes of the Colorado prairies suggest as much about the emotion she felt upon viewing the scene as the subject.
Gilpin’s long involvement with the Navajo began in l930, when she and her companion, Elizabeth Forster, ran out of gasoline in a remote section of the Navajo reservation. Gilpin’s early Navajo pictures focused on particular individuals. Through these portraits, she came to understand the difference between sentimentality and sentiment; she created a compassionate record of traditional Navajo life of the era.
To make a living during the Depression, Gilpin published photographic postcards, worked on a series of lantern slides on archaeological subjects and even operated a turkey farm. In l94l, she published her first major book, “The Pueblos: A Camera Chronicle.” After WWII, she settled in Santa Fe and published “Temples In The Yucatan: A Camera Chronicle of Chichen Itza” and “The Rio Grande: River of Destiny,” that established her importance as a cultural geographer and reiterated the significance of her landscape work.
In l950, she went back to the Navajo reservation and re-photographed many of her previous subjects for her 1968 book, “The Enduring Navajo.”
Whether printed on platinum or silver paper, her pictures are characteristically infused with a soft, luminous light and composed with classic elegance. Gilpin was a woman of Western toughness and Eastern gentility who could hire a plane or camp overnight to get the picture she wanted. For more than a half a century, she practiced her profession with consummate craftsmanship and a great love for the world around her.