I was born in Verdun, France in 1956 to a Ukrainian Mom and a Polish and American-mix Dad. Post Korean War jobs were plentiful and my Dad returned home to San Francisco to take a job in the City, and be near his family. The Bay Area back then had a lot of ruralness, Beat Culture, the eventual Psychedelic, Vietnam, and Winterland scenes emerging. These were all strong influences on my life.

In my teens I discovered rock climbing, Nordic skiing, and the Sierra Nevada. Yosemite Valley had always been a family touchstone, and I gravitated to a rock climbing lesson there as a teenager. The lesson along with a backpack trip from Tuolumne Meadows to Mammoth Lakes sent me into a life in the mountains. 

My start in photography started with Ansel Adams. The walls in the Lodge Dining Room in Yosemite Valley had a perimeter of Adam’s’ prints. The exhibit amazed me. I could feel being in the mountains looking at the pictures.

I dabbled with taking snapshots In high school, but rock climbing was my passion. In 1979 a friend of mine and I decided to ski the 211 mile long John Muir Trail. The iconic route travels from Mount Whitney to Yosemite. For 33 days we skied through a winter wonderland. Our youthful mettle was put to the test on several occasions. I came away from the trip with the climbing and skiing as the foundation of what and who I would be in the mountains. I also documented the trip with photos. My trip partner Jim Keating and I had a lot of fun doing post trip slideshows at parties. There were a few photos of mine that took me back to the emotions of the adventure and hooked me into taking photos that had some intent.

Rock climbing became my way of life. I spent summers in Tuolumne Meadows and the High Sierra plying my craft. At the same time I graduated to using a view camera and worked hard at but rarely succeeded at making any meaningful photos. In both pursuits there really was little way to gauge what, if anything, a climb or a photo should mean.

Photo influences made their way to my thinking by way of books like Desert Cantos, The Place No One Knew, and Cape Light. I went to an exhibit of Joe Holmes’ and saw a singular dye transfer from John Wawrzonek. At Steve Solinsky’s studio I saw print after print of remarkable work. These snippets of art education provided enough inspiration to keep me working on the work. 

Now into my later 60s it just so happens that I have been making pictures in the High Sierra for 43 years. The Brooks Range, Alaska since 2004, and the Great Basin since 1989. I could see myself traversing other places and terrain but we only have so much time. And I have found that I need a lot of visits and time spent looking to see compelling moments of light. The limitations of time like the limits of a view camera are constraints I’m happy to work in.

It is 2023. I just published Inside the High Sierra. Book sales and the book making process have been successful. Somewhere twenty years from now there will be another Sierra book. I’m returning to the Brooks Range to finalize material for a book on that incredible place. And I am making my way across the Great Basin again and still. There’s a lot to see out toward that horizon.


Claude Fiddler

Crowley Lake, 2023.