Lesson Plans: Fielder helps students develop an interest in the arts

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By Emile Hallez

When Dakota Ridge High art teacher Alex Chick wanted to persuade her students that they could actually make a living from a career in art, she did so by bringing Colorado’s most famous contemporary nature photographer to the school.

John Fielder delivered a slide-show lecture filled with his thoughts on color and form Feb. 18 in the school’s auditorium.

“I’ve been able to make art — photography — happen in the real world. If I can lend some advice to young people who have a desire to do the same thing, then I want to be useful,” Fielder said before the lecture. “I remember the mystery of getting out into the real world when I was 17. …

“I had some remarkable teachers while I was growing up,” he said of instructors in both science and art. “They made me comfortable with art, and that was a big reason why I’m doing what I’m doing today. … I want to be able to pass along some of that influence.”

About 100 students gathered in the auditorium, taking in vibrant slides of Colorado landscapes, as Fielder explained his career transition from a business path to shutterbug.

“I fell in love with Colorado, and when I got out of college I knew where I wanted to be.”

Fielder managed Southglenn Mall before giving up the lucrative position to make photos for a living. He and his wife made a deal, he said, that he could develop as a photographer for a year, and if the job wasn’t making ends meet, he would head back to the mall.

The decision was obviously the right one. Having published more than 30 books, the majority of which feature photos taken in Colorado, he has established himself as the state’s pre-eminent nature photographer.

The ingredients to his success, and for artists in general, he told students, are a passion for the subject and the ability to market one’s work.

“I’m in love with my subject matter more than I am with photography,” he said, adding that he’s also worked to become a good salesperson. “I consider myself a naturalist first, photographer second.”

The basis of his presentation, “New Perspectives in Color,” included explanations of the five elements Fielder considers essential to good pictures: color, form, moment, perspective and view. Creating the guiding elements and his ability to make photos that reflect what he saw with his eyes was a trial-and-error process. He fell in love with the work of renowned photographers like Ansel Adams and Eliot Porter but was unable to take magnificent frames right off the bat.

“In 1973 I rented a Pentax SLR. That was the beginning of the end, so to speak,” he said. “I take what nature gives me, but I also go looking for elements.”

Student Dominique Montoya, 17, who also fancies herself as a developing nature photographer, was excited to hear Fielder speak.

“I like how the bigger picture of everything, and how, when you look at it, you don’t (just) see the beauty of it. You see his love of the outdoors, of nature.”

Chick too was happy about the lecture and was glad to see Fielder emphasize the importance of marketing as a key ingredient in a successful artist’s career.

“You actually can do something with art,” Chick said. “It’s good for them to see that you have to be a promoter.”


Send your school news to Emile Hallez Williams at emile@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22.