john fielder is a renowned landscape photographer, preservationist, activist, skiier, author, teacher, and colorado lover. i’m not sure if he can touch his toes, but if i had to put money on it, i’d guess yes. he’s also one of my personal heroes.
mr. fielder’s work has been a part of my life for as long as i can remember. to this day, my mom has two of his poster prints hanging in her living room. i remember learning to identify wild flowers through those frames. she owns copies of most of his notable books including both versions of Colorado 1870-2000. i used to flip through the then and now pages, imagining, dreaming, and scheming. i’ve visited many of the now ghost towns he exposed in those pages and can pick out many of the landscapes he made famous. i used to think of him as a story teller first, photographer second. maybe i still do. last friday, i had the pleasure of seeing him in person.
i personally didn’t get into landscape photography until i spent a summer living in yellowstone national park. i had brought a point and shot for my adventure and was sorely disappointed in what my eye could see versus what my camera captured. so after that summer, when i had plans to through-hike the colorado trail, i saved and pinched and invested in a dslr camera (i’ve named him stephen with a “ph” and he’s since traveled the world with me). my photography has progressed over the years with few lessons and lots of mistakes. with each photograph i take, my love for nature grows. they go hand in hand. when i read that john fielder was presenting in denver, i was eager to see a true pro speak on his medium. so in going to this event, i truthfully thought that i was going to just sit back and enjoy some beautiful photography. i’m so glad i was wrong.
to briefly describe the evening, john fielder joined with the sierra club (as he often does) to put on an event celebrating 20 years of great outdoors colorado. in 1992 with the advocacy of john fielder and many others, colorado voters “directed a portion of Lottery proceeds towards Colorado’s wildlife, parks, rivers, trails and open spaces.” these places are protected and/or preserved through the colorado lottery profits and the work of great outdoors colorado (now you all know why i regularly buy lotto tickets. i mean, winning would be nice, too). they held a silent auction at the event, had several members of the sierra club rocky mountain chapter speak, and finally a special presentation by mr. fielder. he discussed his passion for the great outdoors colorado program, on the preservation of open space, private ranches, and habitat areas, and played a slide show that was part photographer instruction (the human eye vs the camera lens on visual perspective aka fstop) and part activist education on preserving all of the counties in colorado from mountain sides to desert plains. his soundtrack ranged from music by an artist he met in namibia to a song from dances with wolves. oh yeah, and there was free beer.
yes, the images were beautiful. but it was what mr. fielder said that moved me. his opinions on population growth, development, and energy made me want to stand up and yell, “amen!” he spoke on the history of great outdoors colorado (the righting of the wrong when the initiative was first passed, loop holes prevented money from actually going to outdoor programs) and the importance of keeping money in the parks & rec department, rather than moving it to other in-need programs like education. he touched on the heritage and community of western ranches noting the eco-systems that live sustainably when the land is properly cared for. then, he spoke on programs like inner city outings* (through the sierra club) which get inner-city under-privileged youth outside. ding ding ding! we have a winner. john fielder said, “those kids will someday be voters.” i’m not summiting for someone to climb mountains or to get my friends to pay for my vacation, i’m doing it to raise money for a program that teaches kids about the environment, about conservation and preservation. i want to help educate on taking care of planet earth not just for us right now, but for future generations. i want to let kids feel what john fielder feels when he’s outside.
to try and sum up all of the inspiration he spit out during the night would be impossible. so in no particular order, here are some of my favorite quotes:
“photography is two things: a good eye and being at the right place at the right time. the more you’re out, the more you’re in the right place.”
“i love humans, not collectively, but individually. they’re lovely people.”
“…we need to have the courage to look ahead a hundred years or a thousand years.”
“the day we lose ranchers is the day we lose ourselves.”
“don’t pander short term solutions to long term problems.”
“all of my knee cartilage is in that book.”
after the program, john fielder signed books and met with guests. i purchased my first john fielder book (autumn themed) and got in line. as my turn came closer, i started getting nervous. i tried to work out all of the words i wanted to say. i wanted to ask him if he’d heard of summit for someone or big city mountaineers. i wanted to tell him that what he just said in that last hour and half was more important to me then he could understand. i wanted to tell him that in that room, he had just become one of my heroes. i wanted to be eloquent and confident. but i was afraid i’d blow it and sound more like ralphie in a christmas story**. what if instead of asking for a red ryder bb gun, i’d end up agreeing to a football? it all happened so fast, but i’m proud to say i didn’t blow it. his advice to me? “get into shape.”