For 40 years, I have worked as a nature photographer and publisher to promote the protection of ranches, open spaces, and wildlands in Colorado and beyond. Humanity will not survive without the preservation of biodiversity on Earth, and I have been honored to use my photography to influence people and legislation to protect our natural and rural environments.
I am humbled that these photos have spurred the passage of the 1992 Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund Initiative (GOCO) and Congress’s Colorado Wilderness Act of 1993 among other land protection projects across this state that I love.
I have decided to donate my life’s work of photography to you, the people of Colorado. As our state’s historical preservation arm, History Colorado will be the repository of this collection of more than 5,000 photos distilled from 200,000 made since 1973. Their digitization and exhibition development is made possible by a grant from the Telluray Foundation.
In addition, it will receive important artifacts from my career, including photography equipment, published books, various papers, and oral histories about life on the wilderness trail.
Established in 1879, History Colorado is the caretaker of our state’s collective memory. It has protected historic treasures and directed over a quarter of a billion dollars in grants for statewide preservation and education.
History Colorado’s photography collection of more than one million images documents the history of the Centennial State and the American West from the 1840s to the present day. Key collections include the largest archive of the 19th-century work of landscape photographer William Henry Jackson.
You may recall my project “Colorado 1870-2000” which produced three books comparing Jackson’s images with my repeat photos of the same places. The project begged us to examine changes in the landscape and ask ourselves what we might do differently in the next 100 years.
This spring History Colorado will make all my photographs available for anyone to search and download for personal and commercial use, as well as host ongoing exhibitions featuring my work. Stay tuned for the first exhibition opening in the summer of 2023 at the History Colorado Center in Denver.
Through these photographic journeys, you will have the opportunity to follow in my footsteps across 28 mountain ranges, float with me down each of our major rivers, explore remote desert canyons, and drive across our vast Great Plains.
You will see the heart of 44 Colorado federal wilderness areas and 11 national forests, many of Colorado’s state parks and wildlife areas, and more than 500 local parks, open spaces, and trails across Colorado’s 64 counties. In between these public places, I have documented over 100 of Colorado’s most historical and beautiful ranches ranging in size from 600 to 150,000 acres.
My images represent the sublimeness of the place that I think is the most beautiful on Earth …Colorado. They are both documentary and artistic.
However, they represent something else, perhaps even more important than their sense of place: they are a record of Nature as of 2022. As Earth has rapidly warmed, perspective is more critical than ever. In Colorado, trees have died, and glaciers have melted, and this change in the ecological landscape will only accelerate.
Perhaps my imagery can be a baseline to judge the impact of current change and allow us to predict what Colorado will look like in 2050 and beyond. Such a perspective could influence how we live to slow global warming and ensure a better future for my grandchildren and yours.
I have never felt that I “owned” my photographs, only that I was borrowing these places to explore and record, and that I would give them back someday. That day has arrived.
I will continue to explore and photograph, but for now, thank you, Colorado, for the gifts you’ve given me, the adventures, the joy, and the inspiration. I am excited to preserve these treasures and make them readily available through History Colorado for generations to come.
John Fielder is a nationally renowned photographer, publisher, teacher, and environmentalist. For the past 40 years he has hiked and skied hundreds of miles in Colorado alone each year — and drives thousands — in order to record on film its most sublime natural places. His books, including best-seller “Colorado 1870-2000,” postcards, and fine art prints are available for sale, and now his images will be available to the public.
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