The impact we have.

I was fortunate to be born in Fairplay, Colorado, and grew up between there and Buena Vista. My parents were very passionate about the outdoors; my mom managed the local outfitter, which allowed me to embark on various adventures while growing up. We went on backpacking trips, fishing expeditions, skiing, snowshoeing, rafting, and everything else one can do in the beautiful Colorado mountains. Being raised in the mountains I learned a respect for the land and that it was worth preserving for future generations. When I was young, my sister was diagnosed with cancer, leading us to relocate to the city to be closer to the hospital. Against all odds, she managed to overcome the illness, and during the following years, I learned the art of cooking while pursuing an education. It was during this time that I met my wonderful wife, Kimmie.

In the early 2000s, Kimmie and I developed a shared interest in photography as a means to gather media content for the local disc golf club’s website we were managing. We continued to work, pursued our degrees, and started building our life together. Kimmie obtained an art teaching degree, and I earned a degree in computer security, which laid the foundation for our life together. A series of life events led to my business partner’s departure, and Kimmie Randall decided to leave her job to join me. Although we never struggled to find work, managing the workload became challenging. We tried various solutions, such as hiring employees, limiting projects, outsourcing, and working with interns, but nothing seemed to alleviate the ever-growing workload.

After nearly five years of working nonstop with only a handful of days off, stress began to take its toll on our relationship and, honestly, our overall happiness. We tried to persevere, but we eventually reached a breaking point where we had to find a way to release ourselves from work’s grip. Given Kimmie’s art background, we decided to explore this avenue while still making the most of our limited time. Photography became the perfect escape from IT work, offering us 24-hour adventures in the mountains. This helped us restore the balance between our workload and provided a creative outlet for the other side of our brains.

Initially, the photos served as a refuge from our IT work, stimulating our right brains. We explored my favorite childhood places, embarking on numerous level 1, 2, and 3 adventures, including canyon exploration, mountain climbing, forging rivers, and taking countless photographs along the way. As we continued our adventures, we wanted to share them with family and friends, so we created a few online social media accounts for others to follow our journeys. Over time, we gained followers beyond our immediate circle, and after about five years, we began selling some of our shots to magazines, calendars, and local visitor guides. Early the photos remained primarily an escape from work.

Life took unexpected turns, and we lost the house we were in the process of buying, along with a significant amount of invested funds. This was a jolting experience that made us realize we were not as content with the city life we were building. The idea of returning to the mountains had been growing in our minds during our years of adventure, and losing the house presented an opportunity to make that move. Buena Vista was the place we loved to explore the most, and I relished rediscovering the secret places I explored as a child. This significant leap came with financial challenges, took us away from our families, and risked the client base we had established in the city. Nevertheless, we knew it was the right choice for our hearts, so we made every effort to make the move.

Fate played a major role, and we managed to find a new place, sell most of our belongings, and move to the mountains in just two weeks. As it turns out fate had even grander plans for us, as we were offered an opportunity to exhibit our work in our favorite gallery. This gallery not only featured many of our favorite artists, but the owner also became a mentor who guided us into the art world. This became a pivotal moment in our lives because the month-long exhibition we held was a tremendous success, earning us an invitation to become resident artists in the gallery. I had always believed that there was no money in art, so I never imagined that our adventure photos would become a means of supporting our life in the mountains. With the assistance of the gallery owner and support from our families, we disproved my earlier misconceptions. While we have not entirely transitioned from IT to art, we dream of a future where we can adventure and shoot 24/7.

In the world of art, there is a continuous evolution in one’s approach, and the reasons for photographing change over time. Initially, you follow your idols, mimicking their style to hone your skills. With time, artists move beyond imitation, adding their unique perspective. This may manifest in changes in perspective, timing, lighting, and, in photography, the ability to edit photos to add personal touches. Ultimately, the true artistry lies in finding something unique, something that sets you apart from the masters. Art is about sharing your creative vision, not replicating someone else’s work.

“A few years ago, just before he passed, Jon Fielder gave his art away to the world and started to question his impact on the beauty he captured. At the time, it was a bit confusing. He was always an idol who seemed to have similar views, but to give everything away left me perplexed. Little did I know a seed was planted which left me pondering my impact in the coming months.

This fall, that seed started to really grow and tear at me. Many of the areas we had posted pictures of in previous years, which only had a few people, now had thousands of visitors the following season. We found fires left burning, people camping in areas that were marked for restoration, cars parked off the side of the road on the plant life, animals getting displaced, and the roadkill numbers going through the roof. I started to see that I was responsible for some of the damage. Not directly, but by sharing my photos, I was causing a negative impact on the last place I ever wanted to harm.

We also saw areas where we had caused a negative impact by sharing with others who we thought had the same respect for the place as we did. Later, we saw photography groups in these previously unknown areas off the trail. Everyone has the right to see the wonders of our land; however, some of these areas cannot handle the increase in foot traffic, resulting in local plant life being trampled. We saw dogs off leash in areas where we had previously seen moose and elk calving, trash in places that once had none.”

Over the years, I witnessed many photographers, whom I once admired, crossing ethical boundaries by trespassing, shooting from private land or ignoring permit restrictions. I observed the proliferation of images from iconic locations like Maroon Bells with the reflection of the peak, which could only be achieved by disregarding rules and regulations. This behavior has a significant impact on the places we hold dear, and it’s disheartening to see fellow professionals compromising the sanctity of these landscapes for profit. As influencers, posting such photos encourages others to bend rules and potentially harm places they don’t fully comprehend.

As the popularity of certain areas in Colorado, like Maroon Bells and RMNP, continues to grow, the impact on the environment becomes more pronounced. The rise in visitor numbers has led to damage to these areas, with people often behaving irresponsibly. I have been known to use my booming voice to call out individuals when necessary, but I’m among the very few professional photographers willing to do so. The parks and wildlife department lacks the resources to manage these locations effectively, which may result in their closure and exploitation by miners.

This brings us to a critical dilemma: Should we continue photographing these places? If we reveal these stunning locations, people become aware of what needs to be protected for future generations. On the other hand, keeping these places hidden might prevent them from attracting people who don’t appreciate their beauty. How can we be part of the solution rather than the problem and help minimize the impact we’ve inadvertently caused?

I firmly believe that education is the key to mitigating the impact we’ve had over the last decade. By helping people understand the significance of these places, we can inspire them to respect and preserve them. We’ve always donated a few photos each year to auctions for nonprofits that promote land conservation. However, we now want to do more. In the coming year, we plan to donate 15% of the profit from our photography to wildlife and forest education. We aim to assist others in learning to cherish and protect the magnificent places that have brought us so much joy.