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Natalie Heller:

A Midwesterner's Dream

July 2020

My first visit to Colorado was in the spring of 1994. I had heard about spring time in the Rockies. I’d heard John Denver sing about it. But I wasn’t prepared for the grandeur of the state. The clean crisp mountain air under the bluest of skies. The remnants of winter snow clinging to the crevasses of the red rock walls, while the aspens budded forth with their bright green foliage. I’d never set my eyes on anything more beautiful. I wanted to capture it and never let it go, so I did the next best thing. I started to photograph it.


The changes in seasons, weather, and light provided unlimited opportunities to record the wonders and beauty of this place. It seemed to tempt me with a new shot literally by the hour. My portfolio isn’t limited to the mountains and the aspen groves. Fourwheel drive excursions have led me to the remains of old mining towns, the delicate colors of Colorado’s floral displays high in the altitudes, and the discovery of sights left to those who venture into the seldom seen remnants of the early  settlers of this country. Wrap all of that and tie it with a trip on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge train and the ghosts of history fill the richness of my images with a human element.


I have always been in love with horses and the American west having grown up on western movies. Somewhere deep inside was a girl who wanted to be part of that. When we got to Colorado, it found an expression. I have been fortunate enough to photograph some of our local ranch life. It has become my favorite subject to shoot, absorbing every detail of the work and experience. The dust, the smoke, the smell of leather, and the scent of the horse as they work into a lather. Then there is the comradery, laughter, and bonding of the ranch hands, while the serenade of the cows calling to their calves fills the air. I find myself leaning in to take shots that capture the details in the chaps and spurs, their creases and textures, weathered and worn not unlike the faces of the men who wear them. No matter where I’ve traveled to, I’m at home in the San Juan’s.


As I look out my window this morning, I see the first rays of the sun hitting the peaks of the San Juan’s. The snow is starting to melt and the smell of pine is heavy in the air. It’s time to go for a walk. Let me grab my camera.

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