Out West

Take a look at Colorado Then and Now.

The concept for the show came from Fielder. "The genesis of the idea came to me in 1995 when I did a book on Rocky Mountain National Park," he recalls. "In that book, I included not only my own color photographs, but also black-and-white photos from the turn of the century by Enos Mills, the father of Rocky Mountain National Park. When I went on book signings, many people asked me if I had stood where Mills had. It seemed strange to me: Why would anybody want to copy someone else? I like wandering vicariously and making my own images."

But the seed was planted. In 1997 Fielder began to conceive of a millennium project with the idea of comparing how it is today versus how it was in the nineteenth century. The choice of pairing his work with Jackson's was an obvious one for Fielder, because the work of the early photographer is readily available right in town. Jackson came out to the region with the survey parties of the 1870s; he operated a photo studio in Denver in the 1880s and '90s before leaving for Detroit shortly before 1900, though he often returned to the region. The Colorado Historical Society, the state agency that oversees the CHM, has in its extensive archives more than 10,000 Jackson negatives and 5,000 prints.

A year and a half ago, Fielder approached Eric Paddock, the CHS's curator of photography and film, with the idea for a show and an accompanying book putting original Jackson images together with Fielder's re-creations. Paddock loved the idea. "Both are the best-known landscape photographers of their respective generations," Paddock notes. "Both are internationally famous for their emblematic images of Colorado's most powerful scenic icons, the enduring focal points of the myths and legends about the state held by people worldwide."

William Henry Jackson, "Pikes Peak Carridge Road," black-and-white photo.
William Henry Jackson, "Pikes Peak Carridge Road," black-and-white photo.
John Fielder, "The Pikes Peak Toll Road," color photo.
John Fielder, "The Pikes Peak Toll Road," color photo.

Fielder and Paddock combed the Jackson archive, culling 300 images, and Fielder made the final selections himself. The book, also called Then and Now, 1870-2000: The Jackson/Fielder Photos, includes the complete set of 300 pairs. The Then and Now exhibit, organized by Paddock, features sixty pairs he selected from Fielder's choices and some supplemental images not found in the book. Paddock has also included relevant artifacts related to photography, such as antique and modern cameras, as well as things directly related to either Jackson or Fielder. Most interesting is the Jackson sketchbook from the 1860s, which shows that before he began to photograph the scenery, he drew it. This display is just beyond the "Zen/Ziegfield" room. After that, the exhibit gets under way with a room devoted to the Colorado scenery.

In this section are many fine things. Of particular interest are the two photos of Roxborough Park, Jackson's "Red Sandstone near Platte Cañon" a black-and-white from 1870, and Fielder's "Arrowhead Golf Course, 15th Fairway," in color, from 1998. As in many of the photo pairs, the changes revealed are fairly subtle since the gorgeous rock formation in the background of both is unchanged. Also, the golf course, though ecologically unsound, is less intrusive than other kinds of modern development -- like the housing tracts that show up elsewhere in Then and Now. A charming aspect of the Jackson photo is the mule-drawn wagon, which is stopped along the dirt road in the middle of the picture. "Jackson converted a Civil War ambulance into a mobile photo lab, which was a necessity then," says Paddock. "The glass-plate negatives used at the time required chemical processing in the field, something that kept amateurs out of landscape photography until the twentieth century." Interestingly, there is also a vehicle in the middle of the Fielder photo -- but in this case, it's a golf cart. Paddock points out that the dirt road already visible in the Jackson photo is still there in Fielder's.

These photos of Roxborough Park are similar to a pair that take up the subject of the summit of Pikes Peak. In Jackson's "Pikes Peak Carridge Road" done after 1891, an open-sided carriage pulled by a team of mules is descending along the road. Fielder's 1998 shot is little different, except that an SUV, a convertible and a motorcycle are on the road. Otherwise, even the placement of the boulders in the foreground is the same.

Other photos reveal that a century or so has mattered little, but as we proceed to sections devoted to water and the built environment, we see the ravages wrought by development and industry. "It would be disingenuous of me to say that I did not expect there to have been great changes, but the total changes as seen in the photographs are shocking," says Fielder, a committed environmentalist. "We're losing 100,000 acres a year to development," he adds with a sigh, pointing out that though more open space is set aside every year, it's insignificant compared to what's being lost.

Take a look at "Great Morainal Valley," a black-and-white Jackson photo from 1873, done at the time he was a survey photographer. The pristine Chaffee County valley is a tree-dotted glen with the meandering La Plata River forming an elegant and informal diagonal from the bottom left to the center of the photo. The scene is unrecognizable in "Clear Creek Reservoir," Fielding's 1998 color photo that takes in the same view. Now water fills much of the valley, and the only thing meandering is the tangle of service roads along the shoreline.

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