Henry Gilpin Passes Away
I was shocked and saddened today when I received a call from Henry Gilpin’s wife Doris and daughter Jean with the news that my long-time friend and truly great photographer, Henry Gilpin, passed away Saturday at age 89. I first met Henry in 1973, when he was an instructor at Ansel Adams annual Yosemite workshop, and I was a student. Henry’s patience and generosity helped me decipher the Zone System following Ansel’s somewhat cryptic explanation of the technique. The first spot meter I ever looked through was Henry Gilpin’s at Washburn Point on that same workshop. Henry graciously arranged the first exhibition I ever had at the Shado’ Gallery in Oregon City, Oregon in 1974.
Henry developed his first roll of film from his mother’s Kodak Vest Pocket camera at age 12. He often said that the turning point in his photography was when he attended Ansel Adams Yosemite workshop as a student in 1959. He fondly remembered being impressed at that workshop, seeing original prints not only by Ansel, but other great photographers as well. Henry began teaching at Ansel’s Yosemite workshops in 1967. His passion, dedication, vision, and excellent technique remained constant until just a few years ago when health problems prevented him from actively making photographs and working in the darkroom.
Henry was proficient in all formats up to 8x10. However, for more than forty years the vast majority of his images were made with a Hasselblad camera. I not only had the privilege to study with Henry, but also the great honor to teach with him at a variety of workshops. Henry had a wonderful sense of humor that was often revealed while teaching. Even though I had heard many of Henry’s stories and jokes before, I always found them interesting and enjoyable. I will never forget the twinkle in his eye, as he would tell certain stories.
I would often say that Henry “could make a Hasselblad look like a 4x5 any day.” As I write this, I’m looking at one of Henry’s stunning black and white photographs on my office wall. I’ve seen it every day for decades and to me it still speaks its quiet message. Henry has the ability to organize the world within an incisive eye and orchestrate qualities of light, so that the print would sing with wonderful harmony.
Along with his passion for photography, he had a wonderful dedication to his family. Amazingly, in 1951 Henry joined the Monterey Sheriff’s Department and retired as Captain of Detectives in 1976. He taught photography at Monterey Peninsula College for thirty-seven years. Somehow Henry was able to balance all of these activities and maintain a constant devotion to and passion for the medium of photography.
There are MANY photographers who were influenced over the years by Henry’s images, as well as his teaching, including me. He will be missed by all of them. Our loss, however, will pale in comparison to his family. Henry leaves behind a wonderful legacy of luminous images. Since he seldom sought notoriety or attention, his images may not be as easy to find as other photographers, but if you have the opportunity to see some of Henry’s photographs it will be an experience you will not forget.