Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Photo finish: John Fielder's photographs will spruce up John Hickenlooper's office

When John Hickenlooper moved from the Denver City & County Building across Civic Center Park to the State Capitol, he found a message from his office's previous occupant posted on a painting by the governor's desk. "I will be easy to find," said the note from Bill Ritter, who'd drawn an arrow pointing to the figure of a fisherman.

But not so easy to find once that painting disappears from the governor's office: It's about to be replaced by a massive reproduction of a John Fielder photo. The prolific photographer was on the beach in Hawaii when he got a call from the new governor, "inviting me to improve the ambience of his office," Fielder remembers. "I've been friends with John Hickenlooper since his days as mayor; being an entrepreneur and something of a promoter myself, he and I have always seen eye to eye."

Fielder sent over three images that captured the grandeur of Colorado. While two of the photos displayed more traditional, if stunning, scenes of the state -- all golden aspens and towering peaks -- the one that made the cut is at once more modern in composition and more historic in subject. "That photograph is Last Dollar Ranch, just outside of Ridgway," says Fielder. "The Sneffels Range is in the background, and in the foreground is that extraordinary stock pond reflecting autumn color and peaks freshly dusted with snow, as well as a restored nineteenth-century ranch building." The photo was taken for Fielder's last project, Ranches of Colorado, published in 2009 (with text by the late James Meadow).

"It will be a great addition to the atmosphere of the governor's office," the photographer says. "We've picked the image, and we're designing the treatment as we speak; it will be applied to the wall." But since this is government work, that's easier said than done, of course. The elaborate woodwork on the walls of the governor's office was done by residents of the Department of Corrections at some time now lost to history; the 8' x14' reproduction will go inside the faux frame created by those cons -- once the space has been shored up to hold it. "We've got to reconstruct the wall so that we can attach these large print panels with adhesive," Fielder explains.

In the meantime, Fielder is already moving on to his next project, a celebration of Great Outdoors Colorado, or GOCO, which Colorado voters passed in 1992, directing that lottery proceeds go to environmental projects, as they were originally intended, rather than prisons. "Fast-forward to 2011, and various interests continue to take potshots at that revenue stream," Fielder says. Under the constitutional cap, as much as $56 million can flow through that stream every year -- trickle-down economics that look pretty attractive to poachers in these budget-strapped times. So Fielder, who was on the citizens' committee that formed GOCO and served as a member of the original board, went to the current board and convinced its members to send some of that stream his way, endorsing a book deal for which he'll shoot 1,000 of the more than 3,000 places that have been protected by GOCO dollars, a book that will come out in 2012, just in time for the twentieth anniversary.

"There's always a political purpose behind my projects," Fielder acknowledges. "The lottery protects not just the economy, but ecology." And so the photographs will include not just parks and ranches, but even skateparks -- all made possible with funds from GOCO, a project that's been so successful that President Barack Obama just announced his own America's Outdoors Campaign, largely based on Colorado's campaign. (Department of the Interior secretary Ken Salazar wrote the initial measure creating GOCO when he was head of the state's Department of Natural Resources.) The staff has been helping Fielder identify some of the most important, photogenic projects for the book; never, one GOCO staffer says, did they imagine that the legendary nature photographer would be shooting such things as skateparks.

"There's a moral to this story," Fielder says, of both the book and the print going into the governor's office. "As much as I love the photos of the totally natural environment, we humans hold the destiny of earth in our hands.... More and more, I'm including the work of man in my photos."

And the work of those men should be easy to find in Colorado.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun