Log In

Reset Password
News Local News Nation & World New Mexico Education

Local photographer credits universe with helping her capture most popular images

Armed with an old camera and tripod, Sarah Gump credits her best pictures to luck, cosmic intervention
Local photographer and salmon newborn nurturer Sarah Gump displays some of her work next to the Animas River. “Just start,” Gump tells aspiring photographers. “Start somewhere; start anywhere. Start and don't stop. If you're really passionate about it, people are going to pick up on that energy, and it will come through in your work.” (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Sarah Gump has been taking professional photographs for only six years, but during that short time, her work has been featured in magazines and displays, including one at the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and Museum.

She would be the first to admit her surprise at where her photography has taken her. After all, she only began taking professional pictures after she bought a used Nikon D3000, a camera that is no longer made, and a cheap tripod from Walmart.

“That’s what we’re in business with,” she said with a laugh. “It’s supposed to have 11 focus points, but only four of mine work. But it still produces wonderful images. I just absolutely love it.”

Gump never saw photography as a potential career in her younger years. Growing up in the small town of Moffat, she had always appreciated the beauty of the San Luis Valley and Sangre de Cristo Mountains that surrounded her childhood home but had not considered capturing its beauty on celluloid.

“It was very picturesque growing up,” Gump said. “I lived in this high-elevation valley. We had a 40-acre spread; we had chickens and rabbits and horses and other different animals. I can remember getting up in the morning to feed and water all of them. The sun would come up with its pinks and the oranges, and it was just amazing.”

Gump’s love of nature’s beauty first translated into a career working with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which she began in 2007. After graduating from Trinidad State Junior College in Alamosa, she headed to Durango in 2009. The timing of her move was not ideal, however, as the state was in the middle of a hiring freeze. She was forced to get a temporary job at Walmart. In her spare time, she began working at the Durango Fish Hatchery.

“I volunteered here at the hatchery for two years on the weekends,” Gump said. “Then after a position was finally available, I took it. It was a no-brainer. I’ve loved it ever since.”

Currently, she is overseeing the births of newborns at the hatchery – a half million newborns to be exact.

“There’s half a million little, little babies that I'm taking care of right now,” she said. “Kokanee salmon. They’re just starting to hatch.”

When she is not nurturing the growth of thousands of larval hatchlings, Gump is out hiking in the wilderness of Colorado, looking for her next great photograph. Her most famous and most purchased image is of a large chunk of driftwood sitting precariously along the edge of Vallecito Reservoir. Gump first noticed it when she was in the area spawning salmon.

“I saw that log and I thought ‘Wow, that's kind of picturesque,’” she said. “But I was working, and I just went home. I just couldn’t get it off my mind, though. A couple nights later, there was a big rainstorm, and I thought it would look really cool. So, I drove down the east side, and I was looking and looking, and I finally found it. It was just drenched out there in the sun, and I fired off a few shots.”

After developing the photograph, Gump realized there was something about the old piece of driftwood, juxtaposed with the beauty of the Vallecito area, that reminded her of her father.

“I actually dedicated it to my dad and I wrote a poem about it, which is on my blog,” she said. “This stump has endured Mother Nature’s worst: It’s been burned. It’s been rained on and snowed on, and still it stands. That was what stood out about it. My dad has the same qualities. He’s been through a lot. He’s a veteran – both my parents were veterans – and he still stands after everything he’s been through. That’s why I dedicated it to him.”

Another popular photograph of Gump’s, a striking red barn sitting in a snow-covered valley with horses running along its fenced perimeter, happened by sheer happenstance.

“I was out taking a picture of this red barn, right?” she said. “It’s just up the road from where I live. I fired off some shots and hear these horses. They ran through the scene, and I was I was shaking my fist because those horses just photobombed my picture!”

Gump showed the photograph to her sister, convinced the horses had ruined the shot. Her sister had a much different opinion of the final product.

“I was very critical about it,” she said. “My sister was actually the one who pushed me. She said, ‘No, this is really good. You need to print this.’ So I did a pity print last year and that was the first one that sold.”

Gump believes the barn photograph, along with many others she has taken over the years, are due to more than her discontinued camera and having the instinct to know where to point and shoot.

“It was just yet another example of me thinking that I’m in control of things and the universe handing me a gem, and me not recognizing it right away,” she said. “That was a piece that was totally by accident, and it just turned out perfectly.”

She has let go of trying to control the perfect shot and allows for a little luck, a little chaos, cosmic intervention and her camera’s four focus points to capture the beauty and wonder of Colorado. To date, her work has been featured in Durango Magazine and had a full spread in Essential Magazine, which included the cover. While she plans to continue working at the hatchery and taking pictures on the side, she does not rule out having her own photography studio in the future. She also wants to encourage those interested in photography to grab a camera, get out there and start snapping.

“Just start,” she said. “Start somewhere; start anywhere. Surround yourself with people who have that passion and have done those things. Join a photography club. Submit your work to the county fair. Get a hold of your local magazine and get on the call list for when they have calls for artists. Start and don’t stop. If you’re really passionate about it, people are going to pick up on that energy, and it will come through in your work.”


Reader Comments