You’ve got to get up pretty early in the morning to compete with Colorado’s premier nature photographer, John Fielder. Even then, your best shot will finish second.
Fielder has figured out every Colorado angle. His artistic eye and photographic equipment are better than yours. He’s scouted the best locations for a long time, sometimes even decades.
During Colorado summers, Fielder told me he’s up and ready by 4:45 a.m. After daylight’s first few hours, Fielder explains, “The sun’s too high. The colors get washed out, and the contrast is too great. My living has been made literally from 4:45 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. to 9:45 p.m.”
History will show that Fielder used other hours to make himself and his business legendary.
Forty-two years ago, Fielder turned his passion into his occupation. Since then, there’ve been decades of scouting, hiking, skiing and camping, often above treeline, and for weeks at a time. Frequently, Fielder finagles Colorado ranch owners and governmental agencies to give him rare access to their properties. He’s often been alone, except for photographic equipment and occasional pack-llamas.
Fielder grew up admiring the accomplishments and civic mindedness of his father, an East Coast department store executive. Fielder’s father, also named John, was the youngest president of a prominent major New York City Fifth Avenue clothier — De Pinna. Career advancement eventually took the senior John and family to Charlotte to manage and grow Ivey’s Department Store.
Young John Fielder was permitted by his parents to travel with his Charlotte teacher (Mrs. Hickman) on multi-week field trips to western parts of North America. Fielder fell for Colorado. Waking up in Estes Park and looking at Longs Peak, the North Carolina boy declared his intention to someday live in Colorado.
In 1972, Fielder graduated from Duke with a degree in accounting and management sciences. In the tradition of his father, he aspired to be a department store executive, but out west in Colorado. Like his father, Fielder rapidly rose through the ranks, first at the Denver Dry Goods, and then as general manager of the prestigious, high-volume May D&F at the new Southglenn Mall.
At age 29, Fielder was the company’s youngest senior manager. He was destined for merchandising greatness. But his passion intervened.
Fielder felt drawn to the remotest regions of Colorado’s backcountry. On days off, he’d four-wheel up Engineer Pass and Cinnamon Pass.to find perfect spots to use his top-notch cameras and film. Fielder was learning his craft. Simultaneously, he studied the lives and lessons of famous nature photographers William Henry Jackson, Ansel Adams and Eliot Porter.
In 1981, Fielder made the leap from managing a major department store to being a solitary nature photographer. He’d purchased a Tandy computer at Radio Shack. Fielder told me, “The data programming is how I would invoice stores that bought from me. It was absolutely critical to have a well-run business. I was with an accounting degree so that was kind of second nature.”
When times change, Fielder modernizes. When photography went digital, so did Fielder. He was always an early adapter to anything technical and scientific. Merchandising comes naturally to Fielder. So does change.
Fielder long ago exited his famous Colorado galleries. He’s mastered the internet as the perfect vehicle to display and market his products. Fielder’s spectacular website offers consumers a chance to window shop, and perhaps purchase Fielder prints and publications with the click of a mouse.
Fielder explained his modern personalized sales process, “It’s all done by email; by phone call; so if you send me a phone photo of your blank wall, I’m able to photoshop in the exact image that you see on my website. I’ll put a frame around it or whatever in the mock-up. That is 98% of the finished product so I don’t need a gallery any longer. We just do it by remote control.”
Fielder recently made headlines with his generous gift to History Colorado, handing over “a hard drive with 5,500 photos on it, which is the distillation of 200,000 photos” of every wilderness area within Colorado, along with private properties to which Fielder gained access. By this summer, Fielder’s photos should be organized and accessible on the History Colorado web site.
It’s not as if Fielder is stopping his photography or outspoken conservation advocacy now that he’s begun his eighth decade. Fielder told me he once gave then-Gov. John Hickenlooper an angry earful over his old oil energy policies. However, since Sen. Hickenlooper has evolved, and persuaded Joe Manchin to approve climate change legislation, Fielder said he wants to reconcile.
Throughout American history, our greatest outdoor photographers have been committed conservationists. As Colorado’s resources get depleted by climate change, Fielder worries his six grandchildren (with more on the way) won’t be able to enjoy the Colorado he has cherished.
Colorado’s natural beauty must be preserved. Fielder’s photographs can serve as historic and scientific tools, helping to inspire Colorado to protect itself from our critical climatic challenges.
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