posted: February 12th, 2017 | by:Bert
©Bert Gildart: Tragically, Tom Ulrich, a nationally renowned photographer, profoundly individualistic man, and genuinely good person, passed away early Friday morning. His demise has created a void for his many friends, and Janie and I know that includes us.
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.
Tom Ulrich was a highly creative photographer. His dog “Buddy” knew how to pose, at least for Tom.
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.
Before long Tom’s photo business began to boom but he never got so busy he couldn’t help friends, and often that included Janie and me. To supplement our income Janie and I had rentals, and once, when we returned from a trip we found one in a complete mess. Shortly thereafter Tom called and invited us for dinner but we declined because we felt we had to get the mess cleaned up. Tom didn’t say a thing, but about an hour later he showed up and spent the rest of the day helping us clean the mess, and that included painting a wall. That night we dined.
MOST PHOTOGRAPHED DOG?
As the years went by Tom was becoming well known, but I didn’t realize the extent until one day in Denali National Park. Initially, other Alaska photographers informed us they’d seen Tom that winter in some far off place. But here’s what blew my mind. To visit Wonder Lake in Denali, visitors have to take the bus, and it was crowded, forcing Janie and me to sit apart. My seatmate was congenial and wanted to know where we were from. When I said Montana, he said he had just been at a photographer’s log cabin near West Glacier. “You can’t mean Tom Ulrich,” I almost shouted. “Yes, he said, and he was taking care of a dog called Sinopah.”
Well that was our dog and then we started visiting about his dog Buddy, whom we’d care for when Tom was on the road. It was a reciprocal thing but this anecdote is really about Buddy and Tom, and recalling all the prizes Tom won dressing Buddy (his beautiful golden retriever) up in so many various ways. Sometimes Buddy was a skier adorned with goggles, other times an old man or woman, dressed with the proper hat… even a snorkeler. Janie and I also remember the birthday parties Tom had for Buddy.
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 it is hard to beat the image Tom made of three bighorns in Jasper, which Northword Press used for the centerpiece of my book on Mountain Monarchs. 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.
Tom’s enthusiasm for trying to capture the very best
image was contagious and had us both up at the crack of dawn at Bosque Del Apache.
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. He published in hundreds of different periodicals; created books; lectured widely; led photo tours around the world, but often focused on Africa and South America; and has made friends everywhere, as Linda Martin (Tom’s significant other) and her Facebook page so testifies. In the past few days, hundreds have posted comments about this highly motivated individual.
But more significantly, his 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.
A Few Blogs Which Included Tom:
4th ed. Autographed by the Authors
Hiking Shenandoah National Park
Hiking Shenandoah National Park is the 4th edition of a favorite guide book, created by Bert & Janie, a professional husband-wife journalism team. Lots of updates including more waterfall trails, updated descriptions of confusing trail junctions, and new color photographs. New text describes more of the park’s compelling natural history. Often the descriptions are personal as the Gildarts have hiked virtually every single park trail, sometimes repeatedly.
Big Sky Country is beautiful
Montana Icons: 50 Classic Symbols of the Treasure State
Montana Icons is a book for lovers of the western vista. Features photographs of fifty famous landmarks from what many call the “Last Best Place.” The book will make you feel homesick for Montana even if you already live here. Bert Gildart’s varied careers in Montana (Bus driver on an Indian reservation, a teacher, backcountry ranger, as well as a newspaper reporter, and photographer) have given him a special view of Montana, which he shares in this book. Share the view; click here.
$16.95 + Autographed Copy
What makes Glacier, Glacier?
Glacier Icons: 50 Classic Views of the Crown of the Continent
Glacier Icons: What makes Glacier Park so special? In this book you can discover the story behind fifty of this park’s most amazing features. With this entertaining collection of photos, anecdotes and little known facts, Bert Gildart will be your backcountry guide. A former Glacier backcountry ranger turned writer/photographer, his hundreds of stories and images have appeared in literally dozens of periodicals including Time/Life, Smithsonian, and Field & Stream. Take a look at Glacier Icons
$16.95 + Autographed Copy