I was born August 2, 1950 in Washington, D.C. I spent the first ten years of my life in Connecticut and the balance of my youth in Charlotte, North Carolina.
In elementary school I played sports, especially tennis, and collected Indian arrowheads and coins. One day my younger brother spent my valuable coin collection on bubble gum!
In junior high school, I played sports during the school year, and spent summers at a camp in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. In school, I had a science teacher named Mrs. Hickman who taught me to appreciate science and to love nature. She took me and six other kids on field trips across the nation, showing us things we had, until then, only studied in our science classes. We went to Mexico City one summer and to British Columbia another summer. She is the one who showed me Colorado for the first time.
In high school I continued playing sports through the school year. I had an art teacher named Mr. Birch who taught me to appreciate, and cultivate, creativity. He told me that my art, painting and sculpture, was good and that I shouldn't care if I was the only one who liked it (usually people liked it!) One summer I worked on a ranch in Colorado herding cattle, another summer I worked in my father's department store.
In college at Duke University in North Carolina I studied accounting and occasionally painted pictures. In the summers I prospected for gold and silver for a steel company all around the West, including Colorado. Three days after graduation from college, I went to Colorado to seek my fortune.
I worked in the department store business for eight years in Denver. As a hobby, I would hike around the mountains. When I was 23 years old, I had not painted for a while and decided to try photography. I was amazed at how good photographers like Ansel Adams and Eliot Porter were. I bought their books and tried to take pictures just like them. It didn't work!
Nevertheless, I loved nature and photography and decided not to give up. I thought to myself: "wouldn't it be wonderful to have a job taking pictures of nature?" Every time I had a day off from work I went to the mountains to hike and take pictures. The more I practiced, the better my pictures became. After eight years of being a department store executive, and taking pictures only as a hobby, I decided to try to make a new career with the camera--And it worked!
I photograph nature because I love nature, not just because I love the camera. In particular I photograph the landscape, not wildlife. To be a good wildlife photographer one needs patience and a great knowledge about animals. Landscape photography is more spontaneous, that is, I can take pictures where and when I please. However, I love wildlife, too, and see much of it when on different shoots.
I take pictures because it pleases me to compose nature with a camera. I enjoy isolating the "order" out of the "chaos" within the viewfinder of the camera. Photography also allows me to be in nature often. I love the sights, sounds, smells, and weather of different places such as mountains, deserts, plains, and coasts. I also take pictures because I can use them to show people how beautiful and special nature is. I hope people will visit nature for themselves and that they will have a greater appreciation for its grandeur and fragility.
I am very proud of the 33 books I have had published in 30 years. Each one stands alone and represents a different part of the landscape and nature. Each arouses fond memories of being in places that had a certain appeal unique to any other places, different sights, sounds, and smells.
I used to photograph predominantly with a large format 4 x 5 film view camera -- the kind that requires me to place a dark cloth over my head so that I can focus on a ground glass. Along with my camera, it requires that I carry 7 lenses, as well as 30 sheet film holders and about 400 sheets of color film in a very large pack, in order to be able to photograph for a week. With a large tripod, it all weighs about 65 pounds!
Now that Iíve had a couple of joints totally replaced, I am using my lighter-weight digital cameras more often. In fact, about 80 percent of my images are now made with both SLR and point & shoot digital Canon cameras; however, I still use the 4x 5 when I want to make a large print for my galleries. I love digital cameras for so many reasons, but especially because I can capture detail in highlights and shadows so much better simultaneously.
In the winter I use back country ski gear to visit the huts, or cabins, situated in the mountains around Colorado. We ski 5 to 9 miles a day to get from one hut to another. In the spring I raft rivers to visit Colorado's canyon country. In summer, my three llamas and one "sherpa", or helper, and I course Colorado's wilderness. Sometimes llamas can't go to very rugged places in which case I will employ more "sherpas" to carry tents, sleeping bags, food and other gear.
In 1993, while rafting a class IV (very difficult) rapid on the Dolores River named Snaggletooth, my raft wrapped around a rock in the middle of the river! I had to be rescued by another group -- and it only took 2 hours! Was I happy to get out of the middle of the river -- the river was about 50 degrees.
I have two grown daughters, Ashley and Katy. Neither are serious photographers, but they are very comfortable in the wilderness. As a family we rafted rapids together, skied the huts, and hiked Colorado with the llamas in the summer.I love all the seasons because a beautiful landscape takes upon a new set of sights, sounds and smells from one season to the next. Between the change of seasons and the variety of Colorado places -- eastern prairie, mountains, sand dunes, and river canyons -- my photography is limitless.
I spend about half of my time photographing, and the other half public speaking to promote awareness about conservation issues in Colorado. When not "working", I enjoy lying on beaches with no cameras in sight, watching sports, and being with my family.
In 1992 I helped get the Great Outdoors Colorado initiative passed. Since then 2 million acres of open space, parks, trails, wildlife habitat, and ranches worth $2 billion have been protected with Colorado lottery profits and other monies, such as city and county open space taxes. I am proud of the fact that my photographs were used to help pass the 1993 Colorado Wilderness Bill. They were used to acquaint people and politicians with the beauty of the places they talked so much about. This bill protects some of Colorado's last remaining wild places, mostly in the mountains. Unfortunately, not everyone wanted to protect these places from logging, mining, and water development. It took 14 years to get the bill passed! Too long. In 2000 I helped get the Responsible Growth Initiative on the ballot. It was an attempt to stop sprawl development in Colorado, but was ultimately defeated by big development dollars.
My most popular project was to make repeat photographs of the images of 19th century photographer William Henry Jackson. By standing in the same place, I was able to depict how the landscape has changed in a century in 300 places around Colorado. My book Colorado 1870-2000 is Coloradoís best-selling book ever.
My advice to photography students is to be perceptive. Always keep an eye open for new shapes, new colors, different kinds of light, and how light affects the way we see the landscape. Never forget that one cannot take a good picture unless one "sees" the picture first. The quality of one's camera is not as important as the way one sees nature. The best photographers I know, be they portrait, photojournalist, or nature photographers, have a genuine love for their subject matter. Their photographs have a quality unique to those people only in love with the camera.John Fielder