Photographer John Fielder donates life’s work to History Colorado

Brand-name Colorado nature photographer John Fielder will donate thousands of his photos, collected over 40 years of outdoor travels, to History Colorado.

The 5,500 photos — edited down from more than 150,000 negatives and digital scans — will be archived at the state’s official historical society and placed into the public domain, with a small licensing fee for commercial use.

“I reached out to History Colorado because I had started this process about three years ago with another institution, and it didn’t work out. So when I asked (executive director) Dawn DiPrince if she wanted my life’s work, History Colorado was highly motivated to get it,” Fielder told The Denver Post. “After she said yes, I was able the next day to deliver 5,500 scans and digital images to them, and then it was just a matter of the contract and working out details.”

Fielder was motivated by a desire to encourage conservation of Colorado’s natural resources and beauty. He wants to create a baseline of how things looked in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, he said, so that scientists to compare that against Colorado’s future environment amid alarming, worsening climate change.

“That way, we can be a better judge of how bad things look down the road,” he said. “It’s also just for people who want to explore Arrowhead Lake, for example. Once you go sideways (or ‘street view’) on Google Earth it looks like a cartoon. Now you can search for my Arrowhead Lake photo from 1993 and see exactly where I took the photo. A lot of these are from places where nobody else has been allowed to be.”

The remarkably fast, three-week turnaround from proposal to signed contract with History Colorado is a result of Fielder’s eight months of preparation last year. He pored over 50,000 digital photos, which he started shooting in 2009 when high-resolution digital cameras finally matched his standards, and another 75,000 physical images.

“In addition, (History Colorado) will receive important artifacts from my career, including photography equipment, published books, various papers, and oral histories about life on the wilderness trail,” Fielder wrote in Jan. 20 Denver Post editorial.

The photographs document 28 mountain ranges, 44 federal wilderness areas and 11 national forests, in addition to other landscapes, parks, ranches and trails in each of Colorado’s 64 counties.

“They effectively represent each of Colorado’s 108,000 square miles,” Fielder, who has long been a popular and well-known nature and wildlife photographer, with coffee table books and other works to his name, added. “It’s pretty unique for a photographer to give up his rights while he’s continuing to make a living out of prints, books and calendars.”

Work on creating a digital system to handle the photos will begin on Feb. 1, Fielder said, with an expected late-spring public unveiling. Fielder is glad to have them at the same institution as historical peers such as William Henry Jackson, whose work in the late 1900s and early 20th century American West catalogued the state, but also drove expansion and migration to Colorado.

“I’m pretty excited for people to access them,” Fielder said. “They ended up in the right place.”

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