Remembering Laura Gilpin


  • Martha Sandwiess
Imagine living in the Southwest at the turn of the 20th century and taking up photography as a serious pursuit — it was as much a scientific endeavor then as it was an art form.

In the summertime, you traveled thousands of miles in unsettled areas and camped out to have the sunrise to yourself. And if the light wasn’t right? Then you returned as many times as it took to make sure you had the picture you wanted.

To pay for your trips, you, say, took a teaching job at the Broadmoor Art Academy, moved to Wichita to work for Boeing during World War II, and helped your dearest friend administer medical care to the Navajo on the reservation in New Mexico.

Sometimes a well-to-do family would pay you for copying their album photographs. Or you'd receive a lucrative commission for photographing a wedding, or making a child’s portrait.

For more than 70 years you pursued your passion and profession with dogged perseverance, and ultimately created a body of work depicting the desert Southwest that stands the test of time.

Here’s the kicker: You're a woman and, unlike Ansel Adams, you never got the recognition you deserved.

In a nutshell, that’s Colorado Springs photographer Laura Gilpin, with her Western grit and toughness on full display.

Born in Austin Bluffs on April 22, 1891, Gilpin had her first picture published in 1917. At the age of 88, just weeks before her death, she took her last image of the Southwest from a plane over the Rio Grande River in 1979.

Gilpin got her first “big break” creating pictures for a tourism brochure for Colorado Springs, touting the benefits of the area for easterners stricken with tuberculosis. And over the course of many years created an enduring portrait of women living in the rural West. She also traveled the Yucatan and photographed the Mayan culture.

Laura Gilpin’s life and her photography are firmly enmeshed in the history of Colorado Springs. When you’re out and about, imagine, for a moment, Laura Gilpin standing on a hillside making pictures of the Springs, with its open prairie and uninterrupted view of the mountains.

Colorado Springs wedding photographer Sean Cayton loves remarkable photographs and the stories behind them. You can see his wedding work at, his personal work at and his editorial work in the Colorado Springs Independent. Submit your photo and the story behind the image - no more than two a week, please - to for consideration in upcoming blogs.

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