Photographer chronicles Colorado’s diversity
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – When photographer Jim Steinberg moved to Steamboat Springs in 1975, this was a much different Colorado. There were less people, less cars, less paved roads, even, and he went about capturing it in pictures immediately. At first, the former academic (before being a photographer he’d earned a Ph.D. in English) photographed everything from the energy industry to professional portraits. For the last 20 years, however, his work has been planted almost solely in nature and travel. In 2005, he released “Colorado Less Traveled: Journeys Off the Beaten Path.” With text by Susan J. Tweit, it was full of dramatic images of the Colorado that lies beyond Aspen, Vail and Denver. With its companion piece, “Colorado Scenic Byways, Taking the Other Road,” the intent is much the same. Steinberg explores all 25 of the state’s scenic and historic byways and encourages others to do the same. Come see how amazing Colorado can be, he seems to be saying. After all, the effect it has had on him has been profound.
On Thursday, Steinberg will be making an appearance at Book Train to talk about this newest piece – and the journey it took him on.What drew you to photography? What do you love about it? “Oh, lots of things. I got my first camera when I was about 13, and I have been photographing ever since. There are a number of things that I particularly love about it. One is, I love the freedom, the freedom to some degree to be out and create. The opportunity to see what’s there and capture it, what’s in front of your eyes, in an interpretive manner, has always been exciting for me. And also, being an independent business person as a sole practitioner is very nice.”Where did the idea for this book come from? “It germinated from the last book we did, which was ‘Colorado Less Traveled.’ In my looking around at Colorado books, there were so many – and this is going back about eight years – there are so many books that focus on one little bit of Colorado, and there’s nothing wrong with that, because they’re good examinations of bits and pieces. What I wanted to try and do was to really do some examinations of Colorado as a whole. And it’s such a diverse state between the five geographic regions that it provided a good opportunity for me, as somebody living in the mountains, to really get out and see the state and show the great diversity that we have. The first (book) was very beautiful; it was very informative, but it wasn’t as comprehensive as it might have been. So, what we wanted to do was … a simple little companion piece that would be a little more comprehensive than the first one. And then it kind of took on a life of its own.”Describe how you went about photographing for this book. “That journey was fascinating. Because in order to really do this, again, in a comprehensive fashion, it wasn’t, well, ‘I’ll travel this road and travel that road once or twice.’ I spent two-and-a-half years traveling each of the byways, and I put 45,000 miles on my car doing it. I would travel, pretty much, from April to October, although there were some winter trips involved as well. … So I covered each byway at least three different times – and some of them half a dozen times. And at least three different seasons, that I would travel back and forth, different times of day, different seasons, different directions, to really, always to be seeing something new and getting a feel for, and comprehensive feel for, what each byway itself was like. It’s the kind of thing I could still be out shooting, because it’s so diverse and immense that there’s always something new to see. So I could still be out there, but my staff said ‘Hey, enough.’ And they took my car keys and cameras away and said it’s time to produce this book.”
Did you have a favorite moment during that time? “Oh, I don’t know. There are certain epiphanies you have when you’re out, doing a thing like this. Because you might be out four, five, six days in a row and all of a sudden something comes upon you, and you go, ‘Wow. There it is. This is a great shot. I know it’s going to be there.’ And there were a number of those that happened.”A most trying moment? “I think sometimes the most trying periods were trying to deal with nasty weather that might go on for not just hours but maybe a few days. And trying to maintain a mental equilibrium so that when it does break, you’re really ready to go to work. Because this is, for me, because I work alone, a solitary venture. And when the weather turns nasty, there’s not much to do but sit around and wait. And that can weigh heavily on one if it goes on and on and on.”What do you want to give people with this book? “I want to give them a couple of things. One, a sense of the extraordinary beauty and diversity of the entire state. … If I can allow people to experience what I’ve experienced and to feel a bit of the beauty and joy of the entire state, particularly areas they might not know or with which they might not be particularly familiar, then I will have been successful. The other thing we want to do is create this guide that then, if they do become excited about it and they say, ‘Gosh, let’s go see what the Highway of Legends is all about,’ they have the information that will allow them to then go out and enjoy it and see everything there is to be seen and go and be educated travelers.”
What did you walk away with? “A number of things. One, again, the amazing diversity of our state – and that is diversity of geology, the flora, the fauna and the warmth of the people everywhere I went. … It just reminded me, once again, what a wonderful place Colorado is, not just physically, but also the sense of belonging that Coloradoans have.”What’s the most important thing in your life? “Well, right now the most important thing in my life is trying to get people to pick up this book (laughing) and look at it and understand it and allow me to open up parts of Colorado with which they may not be familiar. That’s the most important thing. Essentially, the last three years of my life have been these two volumes. I think I’ve pretty much put everything I have of myself into it. And I want to share it. And I want people to hopefully have even a slight part and bit of the appreciation for this great state that I do.”
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