Henry Gilpin was a truly great photographer and human being. I had the good fortune to meet him during the mid 1980s when I took two workshops with John Sexton in Carmel, California. Afterwards, I had the further good fortune of having career responsibilities that periodically took me out to the San Francisco and Silicon Valley for the next ten years or so. Whenever I was there I always figured out a way to get down to the Monterey Peninsula to visit with John if he was around, but always with Henry and his wonderful wife Doris. He always made time to see me, often for spur of the moment flybys. I remember making several five hour round trips from San Francisco to Monterey just to get together for short visit or dinner. It was always worth the drive!
He was absolutely world class, but didn’t have a pretentious bone in his body. Probably one of the most unselfish people I’ve ever met and certainly one of the best teachers I’ve had the fortune to learn from. Henry remains far less known then he should be. Most likely because he was not a big self-promoter and probably didn’t care too much about that sort of thing. What he really cared about was making wonderful photographs and teaching others how to do the same thing. One of my most prized possessions is his stupendous Highway 1. When I was getting ready to purchase that print I asked what his favorite size for it was. 11×14 – so that’s what I bought! It hangs on a wall in my workroom, right next to the entrance to my darkroom. I spend a lot of time in both rooms so I see it often.
Another prized possession is my signed copy of an exquisite little book, Henry Gilpin, Photographs. Typical of Henry; he never told me it existed. It’s a somewhat rare book, published in 1997 by the Monterey Museum of Art to commemorate the exhibition of his work. I found out about it by accident while rummaging around the Internet … sadly, a couple of years after he passed away in 2011.
It’s a small slender book containing nineteen jewel-like black and white images inside, and a real one attached onto the cover. All of his best works, including Highway 1 and Wonder Lake, just to mention two of them. To top it off it includes an eloquently written essay by John Sexton, Henry’s one time workshop student, colleague and long-time friend. I keep it in a protective plastic bag, prized possession that it is. When I look at it I admire his work and think the many fond memories I have. I can’t say enough about this wonderful book. Suffice to say, if you appreciate beautifully seen and created black and white photographs of the land you should endeavor to find a copy. It can be found occasionally at used bookstores and on eBay. Start looking … if you find one you won’t regret the effort!!