Colorado photographer John Fielder, who spent nearly five decades traversing the Centennial State to capture its stunning landscapes, died Friday from pancreatic cancer. He was 73.
After spending his childhood on the East Coast, Fielder moved to Colorado just days after he graduated from Duke University. While working in a department store, Fielder picked up hiking and photography after being inspired by Ansel Adams and Eliot Porter.
“I bought their books and tried to take pictures just like them. It didn’t work!” Fielder wrote on his website. “Nevertheless, I loved nature and photography and decided not to give up.”
Over the course of decades, Fielder’s work became a comprehensive collection of the varied environments of Colorado. He published the images in nearly 50 books and calendars.
In January, Fielder donated a selection of more than 5,000 of his photos to History Colorado. The collection was whittled down from an archive of 200,000 photos that Fielder had taken over the course of his career, and will be on a rotating display at the museum’s downtown Denver location, as well as a digital exhibition online.
Shortly after donating his life’s work earlier this year, Fielder sat down with Colorado Matters to talk about his photography and his commitment to conservation. When he realized that his striking photos of Colorado were drawing people to the state to see the vistas for themselves, he welcomed them and hoped their exposure to the outdoors would instill a sense of respect for nature.
“It’s one thing to look at a Fielder photograph in a book, it’s entirely another to be at that place” and experience it with all five senses, Fielder told Colorado Matters’ Ryan Warner. “And when people experience that, only then do they become advocates for protecting and preserving what’s left of wildness in America.”
In 1992, he advocated for the passage of the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund Initiative that invests a part of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help fund conservation and recreation projects. And the following year, he worked with former Sen. Tim Wirth to push Congress to pass the Colorado Wilderness Act.
While Fielder’s goal at the time was to use his photography to preserve the “wildness” of Colorado, it shifted in recent years to provide a capsule of what Colorado looked like prior to a rapidly warming climate.
He hoped scientists would use his photos to “understand that planet Earth is changing faster and exponentially more than we ever thought it would change because of climate change and global warming.”
“I hope people in a decade will look at what happened from my day to their day — look at it and extrapolate and ask ‘How do we change to protect this place we love?’,” he continued.
Governor Jared Polis released a statement on Saturday, saying, “I am saddened by the loss of John Fielder, who captured Colorado’s iconic beauty during his 50 years as a nature photographer. His unique talent and work allowed him to showcase our state to millions across the world and he will be dearly missed.”
“I last saw John two weeks ago at the opening of the ‘REVEALED: John Fielder’s Favorite Place’ exhibition at History Colorado,” Polis’ statement continued. “On behalf of the state, I thanked him for donating his life works to History Colorado.”
In addition to History’s Colorado’s REVEALED exhibition, the Denver-based museum plans to open The John Fielder Mezzanine Gallery in January 2024, which will feature “Fielder’s incredible contribution to the visual record of Colorado, and explore the diverse natural and rural environments of the Centennial State.”
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