I was heartbroken to hear the news this weekend that our dear friend John Fielder, Colorado’s photographer, passed away last Friday. Just a few weeks earlier, we had celebrated with John at the opening of his History Colorado Center exhibition Revealed: John Fielder’s favorite place. We didn’t know if he would be well enough to attend, but he rallied to be there. As usual, his energy was electric — buzzing from the excitement of hundreds of his cheerleaders and strengthened by his zeal for protecting Colorado’s wild places. 

John and I corresponded with each other over the last few weeks. And, in fact, we emailed each other quite a bit over the nine months of our collaboration — mostly to share our gratitude and the good fortune of being able to work together. History Colorado was so grateful for John’s gift to the state’s collection, but even more than that, we had the pleasure of working with John. He was a generous, practical, market-savvy, business-minded dreamer and artist.  

Pierre Lakes, Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness (Photo by John Fielder)

I’ve been a fan of John’s work for decades, but I didn’t really know him until last November when he made the enormous offer to donate his photos and belongings to History Colorado. He wanted us to be the caretakers of his life’s work so that he could share it with the world and our collective descendants would be able to witness Colorado as he saw it right now. We, of course, enthusiastically said yes to his gift, and the next day he overnighted us a hard drive with thousands of his photos. 

When we first met, he did confidentially share that he was sick. Knowing his time was uncertain and possibly short, we quickly mobilized to process his thousands of photographs to make them publicly accessible from our web site and to plan a summer exhibition. Time was fleeting. I wanted to ensure that John could experience as much joy as possible from the impact of his generous gift while he was still with us. And, we hoped he could feel the support of Coloradans as he attempted his “one-hundred-and-first self-rescue,” which is how he described his battle with cancer.

John was an orchestrator. He could envision a big complicated idea and then he could choreograph all the details to bring it to life. He was very actively involved, sometimes attending to relatively small details, because it was all necessary to execute his vision for his legacy. He worked with us on communication strategies, wrote exhibition copy, added his special touch to our collections catalog, and shared his more than five decades of traversing and preserving the “out-of-doors.”  

Hovenweep National Monument (Photo by John Fielder)

This winter, while working closely with John, I serendipitously was reading a book titled “Awe” by author Dacher Keltner. The book examines how scientists measure and rank the things in the world that give us awe. Moral beauty tops this list. This means that humans are most awe-inspired by other humans who do good, courageous or beautiful things in the world and for each other. This is an amazing and life-affirming idea to contemplate. 

Awe is the word I hear most from people when they talk about John. In many ways, people have been even more awestruck by the moral beauty of John’s idea to share his gift with all of us than they are with even the breathtaking natural beauty he shares through his camera. 

Nature, too, is on this scientific list of awe-makers. I am sure that most of us have tried to capture the boundless beauty of Colorado on our cameras – hoping to bottle up nature’s uncatchable transcendence. Yet, this is exactly the magic of John’s photography. He has captured the pinnacle of awe when the clouds, sunshine, flowers, mountains, sandstone, water conspire to maximize the majesty of the moment. 

From the very first email John sent to me in November, I have been in awe of his gift of gifts, energized by his generous and intentional creativity, and inspired by his tenacious protection of this land that we love so much. 

The July night of his exhibition opening at History Colorado Center had a magic to it. He could see in the hundreds of faces how much he meant to people. His message of environmental stewardship reverberated in people’s hearts. And, there were several times I looked over to see how he was doing, and he mouthed back the words “thank you.” 

Thank you, John. We are lucky that you made Colorado your home, that you had the courage to quit your day job and devote your life to photography and the outdoors, that you have accomplished so much to protect our magnificent home, and that we get to gaze at the beauty of Colorado through the lens of your camera for generations upon generations.

Dominguez Canyon Wilderness (Photo by John Fielder)

Dawn DiPrince is the President/CEO & State Historic Preservation Officer for History Colorado.

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