Robert Bishop, postcard chronicler of Aspen
June 11, 2009
If you have sent or received a postcard of Aspen, then it was likely a creation of photographer Robert Bishop. For more than a half-century his images have communicated Aspen’s charm and beauty to the families and friends of Aspen’s visitors. He may be one of Aspen’s most significant non-residents.
Bishop, then living in California, was attracted to Aspen in the post-World War II years. During the Aspen Photographers Conference, initiated by Ferenc Berko, he became enamored of Colorado’s landscapes. The 1951 conference attracted many of America’s most famous landscape photographers and led to the creation of the photography journal Aperture. As the above photo suggests, Ansel Adams dominated discussions. Bishop remembers Adams as, “a character, and entertainingly funny.”
After moving permanently to Colorado, Bishop built a postcard business that focused on ski towns. Aspen was his flagship location. Selling postcards is like selling donuts; the profit from just one card is small, so the business depends on volume. Carl’s Pharmacy and, before they went out of business, Aspen Drug and Crossroads were Bishop’s mainstay retail customers.
A night photo of Aspen Mountain taken from Red Mountain and a September image of Maroon Lake and the Bells in fall color continue as Bishop’s best-selling cards. Maroon is Aspen’s most photogenic scene. Many amateur shutterbugs have spent rolls of film attempting to capture its beauty, before returning home instead with Bishop’s stunning cards.
Landscape photography is an outdoorsman’s dream occupation. Traipsing along mountain trails in solitude while seeking perfect light may sound spectacular. However, some images come from more challenging circumstances. Bishop, for example, managed a risky solo climb of the Bells for a top-down shot.
Bishop has never approached his business complacently. Over the years he worked with printers in Switzerland, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy. At 87, living in Grand Junction, Bishop continues to take pictures with his old reliable film cameras and a new digital one. Longevity is a family trait and he hopes to live more than 100 years.
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Next time you are in a souvenir store, spin the revolving postcard racks until a colorful scene catches your eye. Robert Bishop’s life work provides you with portable memories of our favorite mountain town.