A Photo Finish

By now, most of the state knows who John Fielder is.

Anyone who has been inside a local bookstore, read the Rocky Mountain News, watched News4, done business with Norwest Bank, passed the Colorado History Museum or opened their Public Service Company bill has certainly come across his name and his newest book of photography, Colorado 1870-2000 -- over and over again.

Fielder has also been plugged and pushed by KEZW-AM/1430, ColoradoBiz magazine, Colorado Homes & Lifestyles Magazine and the Cherry Creek Shopping Center. To top it off, he estimates that he's spoken to 20,000 people at forty slide shows, sixty book signings and a slew of other appearances in the last six months.

We now know every detail about how Fielder set out in 1998 to re-photograph 300 pictures taken by early Western photographer William Henry Jackson in an attempt to show us how Colorado has changed in more than a hundred years and to make us consider what we'd like it to look like at the end of the next hundred. We've heard how Fielder hiked more than 250 miles and drove more than 25,000 in his quest to stand in the exact spots where Jackson stood, how he lugged fifty pounds of camera equipment up the sides of cliffs and buildings, and about the time-consuming way he chose which pictures to take and precisely how he lined them up.

But Fielder and his company, Westcliffe Publishers, spent no less time and effort lining up partners and sponsors to promote this massive effort; a long list of them hangs outside the museum, where the book's companion exhibit, Then and Now, 1870-2000: The Jackson/Fielder Photos, has been on display since the beginning of the holiday shopping season in November and will remain up until early August.

But if the marketing has at times threatened to overexpose the message, Fielder isn't worried.

"If you have a message to tell, I believe in telling it with as much conviction and with as much of a voice as you can," he says. "Some people would call it opportunism or commercialism, but when I do something, I do it in a big way, and this is a manifestation of that."

Sales of the enormous, $85 coffee-table book back up that claim: Colorado 1870-2000, which was released last year on August 1 -- Colorado Day -- just underwent its fourth printing, and there are now 75,000 copies in print.

It has sold out of bookstores several times -- most noticeably in mid-December, just as the demand was reaching a fever pitch. "As a marketing guy, I know that you never want to be out of a best-selling item at Christmastime," Fielder says. To recover some of the "lost business," he signed 6,000 book plates that could be given as gifts in lieu of the book and used to pick up a copy at a later date. A third run, of 15,000 copies, is mostly sold out. The most recent printing of the book -- now priced at $95 -- is scheduled to be in stores later this month.

Fielder, who lives in Greenwood Village with his family, got the idea for the project in 1995 after the publication of Rocky Mountain National Park: A 100 Year Perspective. That book paired nineteenth-century black-and-white photos taken by naturalist Enos Mills with Fielder's own takes on the same subjects. "People asked me, 'Did you stand in the same place as Enos Mills?' and I said, 'No, why would I? I like to compose my own shots,'" he says.

But the book made him wonder what it would be like to re-photograph famous places all over the state as a way to promote his longstanding and well-known feelings about the protection and conservation of natural spaces, sprawl, historic preservation and the impact of development in Colorado.

"I know a hook when I see one, and the hook was the millennium," he says. "I realized it had the potential to be pervasive in Colorado. It was a chance to sell the message. So I called in my chits from living and working here for the last twenty years. I said, 'I'll help you promote what you want to promote, and you help me promote what I want to promote,' and everybody liked the idea."

The first thing he did, in the fall of 1997, was contact the Colorado Historical Society, because it owns all of the Jackson images that Fielder would need to borrow.

"He said he had a terrific idea, and I said I thought it was a terrific idea, too, and we all sat down and talked about it and decided we thought it was an opportunity we didn't want to miss," says Carol Whitley, the historical society's development director. "Since we normally do exhibits around major projects, we then talked about an exhibit, too."