Miss Brenda Putnam, 1921Laura Gilpin (American, 1891–1979)
Laura Gilpen figures among the earliest American women to successfully develop an artistic and professional career as a photographer. Raised in and around Colorado Springs, Colorado, but largely educated in Eastern boarding schools, Gilpen was the oldest daughter of an early Colorado settler. Her first camera was a Kodak Brownie she received as a gift for her 12th birthday. Two years later, she traveled to New York City with her mother, who had her sit for a portrait with leading photographer Gertrude Käsebier. The experience made a strong impression.
In 1916, after deciding to seek formal training, Gilpen heeded Käsebier’s suggestion that the young artist move to New York City to attend the school of photographer Clarence H. White. Gilpen, then in her early twenties, shared a city apartment with three other young women, all artists, one of whom was the sitter for this 1921 portrait, sculptor Brenda Putnam.
In 1918, Gilpen returned to Colorado Springs and by 1921 was serving as the instructor of photography at the recently formed Broadmoor Academy of Art. Gilpen’s portraits, particularly her platinum prints, were especially popular for their soft tonalities, use of natural light, and the photographer’s emphasis on capturing each sitter’s personality; all of these qualities are evident in this portrait of a lifelong friend. Later in her career, the artist turned to making dramatic studies of the western landscape.