Claude Fiddler is an intense man. A patient man. A willful man. A perfectionist.
And when you’re asking him about his photography, you almost get the sense that there’s a vague disappointment as he describes how he captured a particular shot – as if he’d still rather be chasing it than celebrating it.
He is not a man who rests on his laurels – ironic because he’s the father of a Laurel.
His daughter Laurel, in fact, contributes a wonderful essay in her father’s latest and greatest book, entitled “Inside the High Sierra,” featuring 55 of his photographs.
The book also features a foreword by 92-year old Thomas Hornbein, author of the seminal book “Everest: The West Ridge.”
Fiddler solicited the foreword from Hornbein because of the inspiration Hornbein’s Everest book gave him as a teenager.
Hornbein writes, “Claude’s invitation comes at a time when wisdom should dictate ‘thanks, but no thanks,’ but wisdom has never been one of my strong suits. As I perused the photos for this volume … I became entranced by their beauty and curious about their creator. It became a no-brainer; I was honored to be a part of this adventure and its team.”
While he has published four books previously, Fiddler says this one is his magnum opus.
In the photographer’s note in the book, Fiddler touches upon some of the unique traits that set him apart.
“In 1983, I bought a large format 4×5-inch view camera. At first I struggled with camera operation, changing film and the bulk and weight of the camera. Eventually, I got to where I could set up, focus and load a sheet of film in a few minutes. However, my standard practice is to spend several minutes, if not hours, figuring out compositions. It can take years to perfect a picture.”
The large format camera suits his style.
“I had the advantage that I was good at getting around in the backcountry. I was not afraid to carry my camera over difficult or technical-climbing terrain. I picked out places off the beaten path, thought about points of view, and considered what it would be like to go as deep as I could go into the remote Sierra backcountry. That, to this day, is what I am about.”
For those who may only know Claude from outside national forest/park boundaries, he has worked for Mono County since 2008 as Supervisor of Construction and Facilities.
Prior to that, he was a private contractor based in Mammoth Lakes for two decades, employing as many as ten people.
He met his wife Nancy, a two-time Olympian cross-country skier, in 1979 at Tioga Pass Resort. “She was a waitress. I was a dirtbag climber,” recounts Fiddler.
A guy named Ned Gillette, a Ski Hall-of-Famer, Olympian, and a1967 NCAA champion, who grew up in Barre, Vermont, recruited these east coast folks to come work in and around Yosemite. Nancy was one of those recruits.
Ironically, Gillette was Claude’s instructor when he first tried cross-country skiing in the early ‘70s.
It can be argued that a daughter knows her father better than anyone – at least that’s been my impression. Boys (and I didn’t have boys) seem like complete spazzes. Girls … they tend to observe. Very closely.
A few excerpts from Laurel Fiddler’s essay in the book:
”I grew up with the naive assumption that other kids also went backpacking deep into the Sierra wilderness for their family vacations.”
“I learned a lot about patience watching my Dad leave camp in the early mornings or evenings in search of the perfect picture.”
“His precision, and patience for beauty, taught me a lot about what it means to pursue a goal.”
When I asked Fiddler how he’d managed to choose just 55 photographs among the thousands upon thousands I’d assumed he’d taken, he looked at me with some pity. Volume is for hacks.
Fiddler said he only had to cull from perhaps 400 photos total – and that on a typical backcountry trip, he might only take a photo or two.
He said the visited Tulainyo Lake six times over a ten years span until he was finally moved to take a photograph.
“For me, it’s not about experimentation. My personality is … I never want to fail. So if I don’t know my intention, I don’t do it. Even if the light is perfect.”
And the camera he uses is a Linhof 4 made in Germany, the same one he bought 40 years ago.
If you want a copy of this book, don’t dally. There will only be 1,000 printed. That’s it.
They’re beautifully printed on archival paper from Japan. The photographs are taken between 1985-2021, and cover the breadth of the Eastern Sierra from Whitney to Yosemite.
The book costs $100 and can be ordered through Fiddler’s website at www.insidethehighsierra.com. That or grab a copy at the Booky Joint in Mammoth, Spellbinder Books in Bishop, or at the Mono lake Committee bookstore in Lee Vining.