Visual Arts

John Fielder Takes His Photos Outside — Now He's Showing Them There, Too

You can find art all over town — not just on gallery walls. In this series, we're looking at some of the local artists who serve up their work in coffeehouses and other non-gallery businesses around town.

Photographer John Fielder has a gallery dedicated to his iconic nature photography, John Fielder's Colorado, but this summer he's been showing his art outside, too: He teamed up with the Colorado Music Festival Orchestra to honor Rocky Mountain National Park's centennial anniversary, projecting his photographs on a thirty-foot screen above the orchestra, which played two symphonic works inextricably linked to nature. And next month, images from his latest book, Colorado's Yampa River: Free Flowing & Wild from the Flat Tops to the Green, will be streamed alongside the sounds of the Steamboat Symphony Orchestra on September 12 and September 13 at Strings Pavilion. Guests will get a glimpse of 300 John Fielder images — all choreographed to music that will emphasize the photographer's unequivocal passion for Colorado.

Fielder first visited Colorado when he was fourteen, during a school field trip from North Carolina. The view blew him away. "In all my life,” he says, “I have not forgotten my first sight of the Rockies rising up before me over the plains. I was simply smitten by this wall of snow-capped peaks above a treeless plain. And the word C-O-L-O-R-A-D-O, it was the most poetic name for a place I had ever heard. I realized at that moment that someone or something had guided me to this place, and that I belonged here for the rest of my life."

Seven years later – when he was 21 years old and recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in accounting – Fielder finally made it back to Colorado, this time for good. But it would take another eight years before Fielder officially became an artist.

Having grown up in a “family of business people,” Fielder says he initially thought that was what he should be, too. But, he adds, “I also had amazing outdoor influences growing up.” While working at a department store, Fielder began backpacking all over the place. He’d done some painting in college art classes, but it wasn’t very practical dragging oils and canvas into the wild. So Fielder taught himself how to use a camera, and he took that into the wilderness instead. “That became a hobby,” he says.

It didn’t hurt that Fielder was damn good at his so-called hobby. At 31, he decided it was time to pursue a career that he was intensely passionate about, and he turned his favorite pastime into a full-time job. From majestic sunrises over the Rockies to colorful Colorado wildflowers bordering alpine lakes, Fielder’s inspired, vibrant photos capture Colorado and all of its glory.

Why the emphasis on Colorado? “Thirty-four years ago, I decided I didn’t want to be a nomad and travel around the world like most major photographers," he explains. "I ended up raising a family in Colorado, and my challenge was: Could I be a good dad and make a living out of nature photography?”

The answer: Yes, he could.

Fielder has become a nationally renowned photographer, publisher, teacher and environmentalist; he’s done over forty coffeetable, guide and children’s books — all but four of them about Colorado. He's perhaps best known for creating Colorado's best-selling book ever: Colorado: 1870 – 2000, which juxtaposes historic photographer William Henry Jackson's images of the nineteenth-century landscape with those of today in an attempt to show how our local ecosystem has changed.

“All of my books have environmental themes,” Fielder explains. His latest on the Yampa River, for example, includes beautiful pictures set against about 50,000 words of text explaining how the river is threatened by water politics.

Fielder’s photography has influenced people and also legislation, earning him the Sierra Club's Ansel Adams Award in 1993 and the Aldo Leopold Foundation’s first Achievement Award given to an individual in 2011. 

Fielder speaks to thousands of folks annually. “With soon-to-be nine billion people on the planet, we all have to find a way to be less impactful,” he says. “As a nature photographer, I have this great byproduct, photographs, and it’s so easy to tell the story of how beautiful Colorado is — and that’s the reason we have to protect our great state.”

Fielder should know. Few have traveled the state as much as he has. He hikes, rafts, backcountry skis and llama packs through hundreds of miles of Colorado annually. “I’m a wilderness guy,” Fielder says. Last month he was in the Raggeds Wilderness near Crested Butte — “just me and two llamas,” he says.

Last year Fielder backpacked in northern Spain with one of his daughters, and he’s soon off to Patagonia. “As good as Patagonia will be, and as good as northern Spain was, I always come back from the trips and realize I like Colorado a little better,” Fielder says.

For more information on Fielder, his work and upcoming concerts, shows and workshops, visit his website

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Jamie Siebrase is a Denver-based freelance writer, and author of the forthcoming Falcon Guide Hiking Wth Kids, Colorado: 52 Great Hikes for Families.
Contact: Jamie Siebrase