Dateline 1979: An Afternoon with Photography Great Laura Gilpin
Over the course of my career as a writer and photojournalist, I've had to opportunity to meet and talk with many wonderful people. Some of the photographers I met and learned from include Myron Wood (amazing Colorado photographer), Ernest Knee (New Mexican photographer), Eugene Smith (great Life Mag photographer), and Laura Gilpin. I spent an afternoon with Laura at her home and studio in Santa Fe in late September 1979. I was interviewing her for an article for the Colorado Springs Sun newspaper. This was her last interview and the last thing written about her. She died a couple months later at age 88. Laura was one of my photographic heroes. In 1891, she, like me, was born in Colorado Springs. She was known for her photographs of the Dine and of the Southwest. This is the beginning of the newspaper article: Laura Gilpin's gaze, framed by a picture window in her Santa Fe home, drifts out over her garden, a shaggy rectangle surrounded by a drab adobe wall. A heavily laden apple tree in the middle of it is moving gently in a late September breeze. The breeze bears a dry, refreshing fragrance of Indian summer and gives promise of a cool evening. The New Mexican mountains stand in sharp relief against a cloudless azure sky: a scene reflected in Laura's glittering blue eyes. "It's been a wonderful sky today," she says. "New Mexico skies are always so wonderful." Today, at 88, Laura Gilpin is the living "grande dame" of Southwestern photographers. Fellow lensman Ansel Adams has said she is "one of the most important photographers of our time." After 75 years behind the lens, the Colorado Springs native has only in the last decade begun to receive recognition outside the Southwest. Fame has not altered her though. She is still the realist who takes it in stride, then gets on with what she wants to do. Now confined to a wheelchair, Laura is still at work, this time on a book about Canyon de Chelly, Arizona. "It doesn't concentrate so much on the Navajos as it does on the canyon itself," she says. "I don't know much about the geology, but I've tried to make photos in every kind of weather and time of day. It will be purely a picture book rather than anything else."
Laura Gilpin in her studio in Santa Fe in September, 1979. Photo @ Stewart M. Green