Colorado nature photographer donates life’s work

Photo Credit: courtesy John Fielder | History Colorado

Fielder’s collection includes 50 years of photography

History Colorado is overjoyed to announce that John Fielder, landscape photographer, renowned conservationist, and nature writer, has donated his life’s work to the people of Colorado. History Colorado will serve as the steward of this collection of more than 5,000 photographs which immortalize the landscapes of every county in the state. This collection was distilled from the more than 200,000 photographs taken by Fielder over the last 50 years and will be digitized and cataloged by History Colorado to make it easily accessible and searchable by the public.

Since he began photographing Colorado in 1973, Fielder has effectively been to each of Colorado’s 104,984 square miles, compiling a record of the Centennial State’s landscape and how it has changed over the past half-century. His photography has been featured in dozens of books, garnered him multiple awards for his service to Colorado and its people, and influenced the passage of laws to protect public lands in Colorado and beyond.

“My goal was always to reveal and preserve the essence of the place that I think is the most beautiful on Earth: Colorado,” Fielder said. “I am humbled that these photos have inspired others and spurred the passage of numerous environmental protection projects and laws across this beautiful state that I love and cherish.”  

Fielder and his photography have influenced policy that protects Colorado lands including Congress’ Colorado Wilderness Act of 1993, which created 36 federally protected Wilderness areas that amount to 660,000 acres; and the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund, which has contributed $1.3 billion in funding to thousands of conservation, recreation, and stewardship projects across Colorado.

Amongst Fielder’s publications is the Colorado 1870-2000 series made in partnership with History Colorado. This series pairs Fielder’s photographs with matching ones taken by William Henry Jackson a hundred years prior, allowing readers to compare and contrast the landscapes while prompting the question: “do we like the changes we see?”

Fielder’s connection to History Colorado was an important reason why he chose to donate his collection to the organization. Equally important was History Colorado’s pledge to make this collection publicly available for personal and commercial use so Fielder’s work may serve as an inspiration for future publications, exhibitions, and research around climate change. 

“I have both a practical and an emotional connection with History Colorado,” Fielder said. “I have always been a history buff and ever curious about what life in Colorado was like before I arrived. Seeing the same landscapes that I have explored as they appeared decades ago – and through the eyes and lenses of people who shared my passion for Earth – inside History Colorado’s collection has always fascinated me. Since History Colorado is a leading institution for historic preservation it felt like the natural caretaker for my work.”

Over the coming months History Colorado will catalog, and make digitally available, the more than 5,000 photographs gifted by Fielder so they can be accessed through the History Colorado website. Furthermore, History Colorado will open an exhibition at the History Colorado Center in late summer of 2023 dedicated to the art of John Fielder and create a rotating gallery of his work starting in January 2024.The digitization and exhibition development of John Fielder’s generous donation is made possible by a grant from the Telluray Foundation. 

“The magnitude of John’s donation to the people of Colorado is as breathtaking as the landscapes he captures,” said Dawn DiPrince, History Colorado’s Executive Director and State Historic Preservation Officer. “This body of work represents the culmination of a lifetime dedicated to documenting and preserving the vistas that define our beloved state so that future generations might be both inspired in their stewardship and informed of how humanity has impacted these lands we call home.”

It is Fielder’s hope that this collection will provide a chance for Coloradans to follow in his footsteps of exploring the 28 mountain ranges, numerous rivers, and diverse ecosystems of Colorado. He also hopes it will foster a desire to be stewards of the environment which he holds so dear.  

“I have come to know that photographs can influence human action,” Fielder said. “Though I want people to be able to enjoy and savor the simple and manifest beauty inherent in my images, I also want the photos to influence how they act in their lives. I hope people who view them will understand the inextricable connectivity between all living things on the entire planet Earth, as well as the delicate connectivity between the environments, or ecosystems, in which life exists.”

This delicate connectivity has been a consistent theme in Fielder’s work as he built a catalog of images that spanned Colorado and began to notice how the environment changed during his 50 years of documentation. Having access to this collection will allow future generations to judge the impact of climate change and better preserve the landscapes of the Centennial State.

“As my knowledge of the science of ecology evolved, it has become perfectly clear to me that Earth is a much smaller thing than we had ever imagined, and it is constantly shrinking in relation to the number of creatures demanding to live on it,” Fielder said. “The web of life promoted by the connectivity of all things, animate or inanimate, is fragile and when it unravels, humanity will no longer be able to exist.”

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