Renowned photographer Fielder prepares for latest book
Colorado wine country guide planned for November 2022
Summit Daily News
John Fielder has had his eye on Colorado for decades. The photographer is known for his annual calendars and coffee-table books, such as the “Colorado: 1870-2000” series and “Mountain Ranges of Colorado.” The professional observer hasn’t had to change much of his routine during the coronavirus pandemic, but he has noticed it changing his biggest passion: nature.
“People got cooped up in their urban spaces because of COVID, logically, so they wanted to retreat to places where there are fewer people, and the number of people on the trails the last two years have been absolutely amazing, which has been a good thing and a bad thing,” Fielder said.
The award-winning photographer and conservationist encourages people to spend as much time outside as possible, but he also stresses that the increased use should be balanced by land management and principles such as Leave No Trace. Global warming and subsequent forest fires then increase the challenge of preserving spaces for all to enjoy.
“There’s no substitute for getting out there,” Fielder said. “Nature is a perennial healing source for humanity. The more you’re out there, the better off you are.”
While the act of photographing landscapes in the wilderness wasn’t terribly affected, Fielder said the pandemic has touched his business. He had to stop in-person book signings, photography workshops and other events.
However, in-person tour visits picked up again in fall 2021. That’s also when Vail Health’s 85,000-square-foot medical center in Dillon opened, giving the public more chances to view Fielder’s work for themselves. Fielder has multiple prints in the basement, lobby and second floor of the building, including two 40-foot-long pieces. One captures a scene of arrowleaf balsamroot wildflowers right from his backyard in Silverthorne.
“That is pure Summit County and no greater testament to how beautiful this place is,” Fielder said about the photo.
Selling wallpaper prints isn’t new for Fielder — he has them across the Front Range, as well as Vail’s Town Council chambers and the Vail Health Hospital — but it is the largest installation he’s had in Summit County. Like most of his work, he hopes the life-size reproduction can get people engaged in nature.
“My first passion is being outdoors. My second passion is making pictures, but not just making pictures for my personal satisfaction but to share with other people,” Fielder said. “The sharing of the places I go is just as important as anything else in my life to me. Having an installation exposed to thousands of people at the hospital, for me, is as good as life gets.”
That passion is why Fielder left his department store career many years ago. Fielder grew up in North Carolina, visited Colorado during a high school field trip and eventually moved to the state after graduating from Duke University. He lived in Denver in 1972 and did real estate when he was 23 before working in department stores for eight years.
He used his knowledge about relationships between vendors and stores to make his photography hobby a professional job. After borrowing money from his dad, Fielder was able to publish his first Colorado calendar in 1982. He went door to door to sell it to over 130 bookstores and gift shops around the state.
Fielder is still going strong over 40 years of entrepreneurial spirit later. He used the Front Range as a home base to run a publishing company and raise a family before moving to the mountains of Summit County in 2007. He is on the third printing of his popular 2020 release, “Colorado’s Highest: The History of Naming the 14,000-Foot Peaks,” that he did in collaboration with author Jeri Norgren.
His 2021 title, “Weld County: 4,000 Square Miles of Grandeur, Greatness & Yesterdays,” was made with Peggy Ford Waldo, who died before the book was printed. The book was commissioned by the Weld Community Foundation to celebrate the organization’s 25th anniversary. Though he considers himself more of a fan of mountains, the county’s prairies spoke to him long before the project.
Fielder started photographing the region’s Pawnee Buttes back in 1975. He said he would get a box of Kentucky Fried Chicken, a six-pack of beer and visit the area to soak in the views for a change of pace.
“It was a labor of love, as they say, because the smells and the sounds and the taste and the touch, as well of the views of the prairie, are so antithetical to the mountains — I love every ecosystem on Earth,” Fielder said about shooting for the book. “The history out there is unreal.”
Now, his sights turn to other areas in Colorado, mainly the Western Slope, for another commissioned book. The Colorado Wine Industry Development Board contacted Fielder in 2020 to photograph wineries, vineyards and tasting rooms across the state.
Unlike his usual coffee-table books, it is more of a guidebook akin to “John Fielder’s Best of Colorado” that will feature lots of pictures, text and maps. He spent 2021 traveling to over 60 wineries and vineyards.
Fielder said photographing the wineries wasn’t really any different than any of his other excursions.
“The basics are the same whether you’re photographing people or cars or sports events or wineries and vineyards and tasting rooms,” Fielder said. “It’s all the same. It’s a matter of getting to know the subject matter and how to portray it most genuinely in the best literal light.”
That connection to the subject matter is partly why Fielder is writing the book himself rather than teaming up with another author. Since he’s already on-site getting the photos, it’s more efficient for him to describe the business and use personal anecdotes from his visit.
“It’s a real joy to get to know the people of the Earth, so to speak, who are connected with the Earth like I am,” Fielder said about photographing ranches. “It was the same thing with grape growers and vintners — just wonderful people.”
Yet timing has been a challenge as recent freezes damaged crops.
“We picked the worst possible year we could to do the project, because early in the season, a lot of vines were not putting off leaves or fruit,” Fielder said “Some places were good, and some places were bad, so I would focus on the tasting room and the winery itself with all of the casks and tanks rather than the vineyard for that particular winery.”
However, Fielder said selectively choosing the angles — similar to if he was in a forest dealing with dead trees from fires or beetles — was sometimes the solution.
His next task is to write, edit and proof the book for publication. There is no set release date, but Fielder plans to have it come out this fall, likely in November. People can learn more about Fielder and get updates on his work at JohnFielder.com. The site is also where people can purchase books, prints and workshops.