Longform

A Photo Finish

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"The other marketing piece was the sneak preview we did at Cherry Creek Shopping Center in August," says the historical society's Johnson. Comparison photos similar to those in the exhibit but much larger (with some mounted on three-dimensional boards so the Jackson photo could be seen from one side, the Fielder photo from the other) hung for six weeks in the mall, where 1.5 million people saw them. The show, which the News helped arrange, was paid for by Berger Funds, a Denver-based mutual fund company, in a separate deal arranged by the mall's management. "This was a multi-armed beast," Johnson says. "A good beast, but a big one, and it's only gotten bigger and more complex."

To pay for the Colorado History Museum exhibit, the historical society relied on another fourteen businesses and foundations -- including KN Energy, Security Life of Denver, Ciber Incorporated, the Cato Foundation and the McBride Family Foundation -- which anted up more than $75,000 in return for having their names and logos on the exhibit, on the donor panel, in the advertising and on anything else associated with Fielder.

"It's frustrating that we have to raise money like that," Johnson says, "but we don't get a lot of federal funding because we are a state agency, so we have to be very creative and aggressive or we won't be able to offer a lot to the public. You have to come up with a balance between being crass and being elegant in order to be able to offer something. We are trying hard to do that and stay on the side of elegant."


In the spring of 2001, the exhibit, or parts of it, will begin traveling to some of the Colorado Historical Society's eleven other sites. From there it may move on to other Colorado cities and even to other states -- the Autry Museum of Western Heritage in Los Angeles has reportedly expressed an interest in the show.

"I don't think the museum has ever done something this comprehensive before," says development director Whitley. "We had to invest a certain amount to make it all happen, but everything has exceeded our expectations. Last August 1, we had 3,000 people here -- that's unheard of -- and they were lined up around the block. (12,041 people had seen the exhibit as of the end of February.) Every time he's been here to sign books, we've had lines. It's just unreal."

Not for Fielder.

A businessman in his former life -- he has an accounting degree from Duke University and worked as the general manager of the May D&F store in the Southglenn Mall -- Fielder has always applied selling techniques to his artwork. "My background in the department-store business separated me from other photographers," he says. "Along the way, I developed a pretty good marketing sense. I had a knack for it and an interest in selling what I do."

Fielder ditched his suit and tie for a safari vest and a tripod in 1981. With a loan from his father, he started Westcliffe Publishers and put out a calendar. The next year, he sold 50 percent of his company to an investor in return for a line of credit and published his first photography book, and he has produced at least one calendar and one book of his own photos every year since then. But Fielder, who is 49, has also expanded Westcliffe, which now publishes up to 25 books and 35 calendars a year, all focused on photography, wildlife and the natural landscape.

If Fielder was inspired by Jackson's images, he was also inspired by his predecessor's publishing empire. Eric Paddock, curator of photography for the Colorado Historical Society, wrote an essay about Jackson in Colorado 1870-2000, which goes on at length about the earlier photographer's business acumen.

Jackson began taking pictures professionally in 1868, at the age of 25, and although his first studio was in Omaha, Nebraska, he spent most of his time traveling around the West. His work caught the attention of Ferdinand Hayden, a surveyor who was helping document the size and scope of the country, including Colorado, and Jackson spent ten years working for him. His photos captured the imagination of people everywhere, because they exposed not just the natural beauty of the landscape but its potential for uses such as mining, road building and development.

He opened a studio in Denver in 1880 and, like Fielder, used his connections to garner some hefty promotion in the Rocky Mountain News. He also used his insight into what people wanted to look at to develop a clientele willing to pay for his work, which he published in a variety of sizes and formats. "As he plied on his artistic talent and built on each success, the W.H. Jackson Photo Co. imprint became synonymous with quality," Paddock writes in his essay. "Jackson grew into a prosperous businessman and a leading promoter of the West."

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes