John Fielder captures the essence of Colorado for more than 40 years
June 11, 2014
Steamboat Springs — Capturing the beauty of Colorado for 40 years, photographer John Fielder was in Steamboat on Wednesday for several events showcasing his work. The photography exhibition coincides with the reprinting of Fielder's best-selling 2004 book, "Mountain Ranges of Colorado," in a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act of 1964. The book depicts the 28 distinct Colorado mountain ranges. From 1984 to 2003, Fielder backpacked and llama-packed the most remote parts of the Colorado Rocky Mountains.
At the Steamboat Springs Center for Visual Arts, he spoke to Explore Steamboat to discuss the moments frozen in time as seen in each of his photographs.
Explore Steamboat: How long have you been coming to Steamboat Springs?
John Fielder: I have been coming here since 1972. If you put your finger on a map, most likely I have been there. I love this area because it is so unique. There is no other place in Colorado that has a combination of rural, agrarian wilderness values, and it's a very special place.
ES: What is it that made you want to be a photographer in the first place?
JF: One word: nature. It's nature first for me and photography second. Whether I was a photographer or not, I would be outdoors all the time.
ES: When photographing landscapes, are you looking for something in particular or is it more of a spur-of-the-moment thing?
JF: Most of my trips have a purpose, so it may be about a particular issue or place. When I go into a place, it's a fairly complex process. I will study the topographic maps before I go to pre-imagine what the area may look like. I will have in my head where I will want to camp before I even get there. There is a plan, but half the photos are spontaneous.
In the case of my wilderness photos, they have been more spontaneous where over the years, I've tried to visit all of Colorado's 43 wilderness areas. Not always for a project, but lo and behold, here we are with the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, and I was able to pull from 40 years of photography to show people all of these extraordinary places.
ES: For your trips, are you mainly backpacking by yourself?
JF: It depends. It's been an evolution. Forty years ago, it was me carrying 60 pounds of large-format camera equipment, then I would have four or five kids carry sleeping bags, tents, food, etc. I've been using llamas for 31 years, so if I would be on trails like the Colorado Trail or the Continental Divide Trail, I would use the llamas to keep the weight off my back.
ES: Do you have a favorite area you have gone to take pictures?
JF: Yes, the Flat Tops and the Mount Zirkel Wilderness. It was two of our first five wilderness areas in 1964. There is nothing like the Flat Tops. Most mountains are precipitous, but those have Trappers Peak and Star Peak. I love the topography and all the elk up there.
ES: You have been all over and seen a lot of beautiful wilderness areas, but what is it about Colorado's landscape that makes the photography so much more captivating and appealing?
JF: The southern Rocky Mountains of Colorado are the perfect age — 65 million years old. They have had long enough to erode into the most beautiful Alpine tundra and flower on earth. Yet at the same time, you still have rock and ice in the background. There really is no other mountain range with that combination and so easily accessible and climatically manageable. You don't need to trek three weeks with an axe to get there, you don't have to sleep on glaciers. It's such a user-friendly type of wilderness.
On June 1, Fielder's new book will be released: “The Yampa River: Free Flowing and Wild Forever.”
Fielder's website can be found here.