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Nature Photographer John Fielder: His Cancer Battle, His Legacy, and the Goat That Stared Back

By Mara Lafontaine · July 23, 2023

In brief…

  • Acclaimed nature photographer John Fielder has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
  • Fielder plans to donate 7,000 of his finest negatives to non-profit History Colorado.
  • He believes experiencing nature is key to appreciating its value and supporting its preservation.
  • Fielder said a memorable encounter with a mountain goat that resulted in one of his most iconic images.
Renowned nature photographer John Fielder takes a long-lens veiw of life and the environment  Karl Thomas Moore, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Beloved nature photographer John Fielder, known for his stunning depictions of Colorado, candidly discussed his 40-year career and recent pancreatic cancer diagnosis. On location in Rocky Mountain National Park, Fielder said, “I never get tired of being in places like this. It’s my medicine. I’ve been to the park a hundred times in the last 40 years, and it gets better each time I come here.” He mused, “Last night was probably the most sublime, most beautiful spring-in-Colorado moment I’ve ever seen.”

While in the midst of fighting cancer, Fielder has taken on the task of curating his extensive collection of 200,000 negatives to a select his favorate 7,000. He plans to gift this collection to History Colorado, a non-profit that ovesees a network of museums and cultural programs for the Centennial State. The goals is to make his prized photographs accessible to anyone who wishes to view or download them. “I never felt that I owned my photos. I thought that was kind of selfish,” he told CBS’ ‘Saturday Morning’.

Fielder, who is deeply concerned about the climate, believes that experiencing the natural world is key to understanding the necessity of protecting the ecosystem. “If you don’t smell it— the smell of decaying aspen leaves in the fall. Taste it— the taste of that cold, metallic, freshly melted snow water up high at 12,000ft. If you don’t listen to the hummingbirds in the meadow at 11,000ft, you never really develop an appreciation for the sensuousness of nature and the fact that this is a 13.8-billion-year process of evolution. In our American democracy, we protected more wilderness than any other country on the planet,” Fielder said. “I want people to vote that way. And unless they care, they won’t do it.”

Fielder shared an anecdote about a close encounter with a mountain goat, which his said is illustrative of his approach. “I was about 18 inches away”, Fielder recounted. “The goat right here, stood up on all fours as if he was going to butt me with his rack. And I just kind of calmly backed up and stood still. And the goat went back down on all fours and just stared at me. It culminated a day later in my communicating with the goat, with my hand on my head, laying down next to this goat 18 inches away and asking the goat questions like ‘What’s it like to be in the wilderness 24/7?’” Fielder believes his voice calmed the goat. “I never got one answer, but he seemed to be enjoying the conversation,” Fielder said.