Fiske was born in Amherst, New Hampshire and moved west with his brother to San Francisco. He apprenticed with Charles L. Weed and worked with Carleton E. Watkins, both early Yosemite photographers. Fiske and his wife moved to Yosemite in 1879 and lived there until he committed suicide in 1918. Fiske was living alone when he shot himself and he often told his neighbors he was "tired of living." Most of his negatives were destroyed when his house burned in 1904.
Galen Clark standing on Overhanging Rock, Glacier Point. Photograph by George Fiske
After Fiske's death, his remaining negatives were acquired by the Yosemite Park Company and stored neglected in a sawmill attic, which burned in 1943. Ansel Adams suggested they be stored safely in the Yosemite Museum fireproof basement, but his suggestion was ignored. "If that hadn't happened", said Adams, "Fiske could have been revealed today, I firmly believe, as a top photographer, a top interpretive photographer. I really can’t get excited at [Carleton] Watkins and [Eadweard] Muybridge—I do get excited at Fiske. I think he had the better eye." (Hickman & Pitts, 1980).
Galen Clark, The Yosemite Valley (1910) has more photographs by Fiske. Fiske provided the photographs to his good friend Clark as a favor, as Clark desperately needed money and wrote this book to earn some income.