Estes Park, CO

Local photographer captures the beauty of nature and chaos. The recent work and story of photojournalist Brett Rios

The Colorado Switchblade

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Photo courtesy of Brett RiosBrett Rios

You may not know his name off the top of your head, but odds are you have already seen his striking and beautiful photos of the wildfires that went viral during the Cameron Peak and East Troublesome fires this summer, and his wildlife shots on local social media platforms.

Local photographer, Brett Rios, has called Estes Park home for the better part of a decade. His love for photography, more specifically, nature photography, started when he was a child growing up in the San Francisco and Yosemite National Park area. It was there that he first saw the work of conservation photographers Ansel Adams and John Muir. “They are some of the most beautiful images I have ever seen in my life… It is what inspired me back then, and to this day, with just trying to get to the level he [Ansel Adams] was at, with his level of understanding photography.”

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Brett RiosBrett Rios

At first, he just had a loving appreciation for the photographic arts. It wasn’t until 2008 when he really got into being a photographer himself. During this time in his life he was also pursuing another of his great passions, rock climbing. It was with his friends in the rock climbing community that he discovered he had a talent for photography himself. While spending time out in the mountains, he saw his friends taking pictures of their climbing adventures and capturing the natural beauty all around them, even submitting the photos to magazines. He reflects on the rock climbing community, “all of it was such a beautiful thing…It was really pure.” In time, he began picking up a camera and started taking some of his own pictures of that beauty.

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Photo Courtesy of Brett RiosBrett Rios

Over the years, the beauty found in nature is not all Rios wanted to capture. He has found that he has a passion for documenting historic moments, as they are happening. This summer gave him opportunity to capture images from concurrent, historical moments that erupted here in Colorado. First, was the demonstrations and rallies for racial equality. Brett wasted no time heading down to Denver when they began. While shooting pictures, on location, he was tear gassed, shot with both rubber bullets and bean bag rounds, arrested, detained for 3 days, during which his camera equipment was destroyed by the police. Even with such a high price, Rios says he would do it all again. The black and white images he captured during the protests have a haunting, powerful, chaotic beauty to them.

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Photo courtesy of Brett RiosBrett Rios

Rios was also in the right place at the right time when the Cameron Peak and East Troublesome fires hit the Estes Valley. Through a contacts with local media he was able to help document the destruction the wildfires had on the lives of his fellow community members. Rios hopes to pursue more with photojournalism, and hopefully The Rocky Mountain Switchblade will have plenty of future opportunities to work with this talented, local photographer.

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A self portrait of photographer Brett RiosBrett Rios

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Welcome to our brave new world. It is becoming more difficult to support oneself, much less a family (including three daughters, a granddaughter, and the family wolf) in the ways a writer used to before the age of the vulture fund media conglomerates. I am local to Estes Park, Colorado, where I write for several outlets in Northern Colorado, including the Estes Park Trail-Gazette. As much as I love what I do for a living, it is challenging to make just a living wage writing for a newspaper, not to mention securing some perks like basic health care. So I have been looking for ways that I can continue writing while supplementing my income. Many writers around the world are now turning to subscription-based platforms like Substack to supplement their incomes. I hope that by giving my readers a direct portal to all of my writing, including articles and serialized fiction projects, they find enough value to help support and join me in continuing this journey. Some of my pieces will be editorial, and sometimes I will include some of the fine artwork that I show in contemporary galleries I will also be sharing some of my political satire art from time to time. Writing is the most powerful tool that we as human beings have to change the world for the better. It gives voice to the most vulnerable of our neighbors, shines a light on the injustices we must fix, and plants the seeds of change and hope for the future. I sincerely hope you will join me on this journey. ~Jason Van Tatenhove

Estes Park, CO
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