A photographic life

  • Grant Heilman

    Paul Larmer

NAME Grant Heilman
HOME Buena Vista, Colorado
VOCATION Professional photographer

When photographer Grant Heilman came home from World War II, he got in touch with some of his mentors at Pennsylva-nia's Swarthmore College, from which he'd graduated shortly before being drafted. One of them, Bob Read, was the editor of Country Gentlemen magazine. He'd used one of Grant's images for a cover, and he wanted to help.

"So he called Ben Hibbs, the editor of the Saturday Evening Post, and said, 'Hey, Ben, I've got a kid you oughtta see,' " recalls Grant. That call helped launch Grant's career:  He went on to shoot and write for a wide range of magazines during the 1940s and 1950s. 

Grant also started a stock image business, which still sells photos with agricultural themes (GrantHeilman Photography.com). The business has done well, says Grant, but technology has changed everything  -- now there's an army of amateur photographers selling digital images for as little as a dollar each through "microsites." "We kept pooh-poohing the microsites," Grant says. "At first, the quality of the photos was crappy and we couldn't see how they could make it work financially." But some microsites, such as iStock, have thrived: In 2006, Getty Images, one of the biggest agencies, bought iStock for $50 million. "That opened our eyes," says Grant. "These microsites are forcing a lot of people like me out of the business."

Nonetheless, Grant, who has a warm Lincolnesque demeanor, is happy living in the small tourist town of Buena Vista with his wife, Conrad Nelson. They're both active in local art and conservation causes. Their latest project: restoring the ponderosa and aspen forest on their foothills ranch.                             

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