Born in Austin Bluffs, Colorado and as a child Gilpin discovered the magic of nature, exploring the nearby Rocky Mountains with great passion.
Gilpin studied at the Clarence H. White School of Photography in New York City from 1916 to 1918, practicing as a pictorialist (i.e., in conscious imitation of painterly qualities).
Her parents bought her a Brownie camera and developing tank in 1903 and by 1909 she was experimenting with autochromes, a new color process developed in France.
Acclaimed for her compassionate portraits of Navajo and Pueblo Indians and breathtaking Southwestern landscapes, Gilpin first began photographing Native Americans when her car ran out of gas on a Navajo reservation in 1930.
Deeply impressed with the Navajo spirit, she became a frequent visitor to the reservation and successfully captured a lasting documentation of the land and people she found.