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Guest Post: Bert Gildart on Tom Ulrich

TomU3Bert Gildart offers this tribute to his close friend.

TOM ULRICH 1948 TO FEBRUARY 10, 2017: Tragically, Tom Ulrich, a world renowned photographer, profoundly individualistic man, and genuinely good person, has passed away from complications associated with leukemia.  His demise has created a void for his many friends.

Tom and I have been buddies since the mid-70s when we shared the aspiration of becoming photographers, a difficult profession to break into. Initially, Tom worked as a teacher, but he found the classroom too confining and decided to move to Montana where he lived out of his van until he built his own cabin several years down the road. But in the 1970s he needed to balance his income, and to do so he tapped into unique situations.

At the time, thousands upon thousands of salmon would migrate each fall from Flathead Lake to the upper reaches of rivers and streams near Glacier National Park. Their numbers would attract anglers interested in snagging the spawning fish, but in the course of doing so they would lose thousands of relatively expensive triple hooks. Here’s where Tom came in.

OLYMPIC TRY OUT: Once Tom had been an Olympic swimming tryout, and he took those skills to the river. Donning scuba diving tanks and appropriate garb, he would swim along river bottoms retrieving lost hooks. He’d then bundle them up and resell them at various outlets he had established. Pricing the lures at eight for a dollar, returns were significant, because of the high volume.

Eventually Tom’s photo business grew to the point where he could devote all of his time to his art, and he evolved into one of the most published photographers in the country. He honed his craft with complete dedication to his subject matter. He knew wildlife; he knew where they were going, what they were doing.”

As the years went by his files grew into a portfolio of over 800,000 photos, and many of these images have been (and are being!) used on a regular basis by numerous magazines to include National Wildlife, Audubon, Outdoor Oklahoma, Sierra, American Hunter, Ranger Rick, Alaska, National Geographic, Montana Outdoors Life, and many others.  During his career, Tom published seven nature books including “Mammals of the Canadian Rockies,” “Birds of the Canadian Rockies,” “Mammals of the Northern Rockies,” “Birds of the Northern Rockies,” “Once Upon a Frame,” “Photo Pantanal,” and “Mt. Reynolds: The Story.”

From Mountain MonarchsBook (1 of 1)To reduce the cost of travel Tom and I sometimes teamed up, and whether it was the competitive edge or simply the fact that Tom’s enthusiasm set the standard I don’t know. But when with him, my images always seemed to improve. However, it is hard to beat the image Tom made of three bighorns in Alberta’s Jasper National Park engaged in battle – used for the centerpiece in my book on Mountain Monarchs published by Northword Press. Why hadn’t I seen that drama unfolding? But at Bosque Del Apache, we pushed each other, and at the crack of dawn we both clicked as thousands of snow geese rose from the waters. I’ll always associate my image with Tom, remembering his penchant for hard work, which drove him relentlessly.

WORLDS A BETTER PLACE: And that may have been the key to his success, for he certainly achieved the objectives he and I had talked about so long ago. Not only did he publish and lecture widely but he led photo tours around the world, which often focused on Africa, South America and the Galapagos. He made friends everywhere, as Linda Martin (Tom’s significant other) and her Facebook page so testifies. In the days subsequent to his demise, hundreds posted warm memories about this highly motivated individual.

But more significantly, Tom Ulrich’s photographs leave the world a better place. You know the man loved nature, and because of the way he reveals it you are inspired to do so as well.


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