The landscapes where we play are vast and beautiful and otherworldly, but it’s easy to lose sight of that in the moment of actual participation—when we’re consumed by the sequences or managing fear or hunting for that next piece. Climbing photography lets us pull back and appreciate our sport in the larger context of these amazing spaces, but there’s often so much going on with our brightly colored gear, ropes, and clothing that the landscape still plays second fiddle to the climbing action.
This is why I’ve long appreciated the veteran photographer Dean Fidelman’s Stone Nudes calendars, which for the past 20 years have showcased his crisp, welcoming black-and-white images of naked climbers interacting with the rocks and climbing landscapes. Stripped down of everything except, in some cases, a pair of rock shoes, the climbers are distilled to their proper place, merely one note in the natural symphony—and not the dominant one. Yet at the same time, their understated, elegant presence—invariably, the men and women Fidelman shoots are young, honed, and attractive—as they interact with the stone draws out why these landscapes appeal to us as climbers. We see these places with fresh eyes as the unique lithic playgrounds that they are thanks to Fidelman’s vision.
One of the original crew of Stonemasters, a group of talented Southern California climbers who pushed free standards on the state’s granite in the 1970s and 1980s, Fidelman has released the 206-page book Stone Nudes: Climbing Bare, a compilation of his best Stone Nudes work over the past 20 years. The coffee-table book is a delight to savor, with a foreword by John Long situating Fidelman’s work within the lineage of nude and Western landscape photography (think Edward Weston and Ansel Adams) and an introduction/statement of purpose from Fidelman himself. But the main attraction is the images, artfully laid out in sizes ranging from spot photos to two-page spreads, presenting climbers in destinations ranging from California, to the South, to Argentina, to Colorado, to Utah and Nevada and beyond.
If you’re familiar with the calendars, you’ll recognize some classics, like Fidelman’s shot of a woman bouldering at Inspiration Point in Yosemite in 1999, El Cap and Half Dome rising stark and sheer behind her. Or the climber on John Gill’s famous Ripper Traverse near Pueblo, Colorado, her unclad heel hooked on a sloping wrinkle in the stone. Or the “Higher Power” shot of a climber chimneying deep in a shadowy fissure in Yosemite in 2001, her eyes cast upward toward the top of the crack. The book also features traditional, unpeopled landscape shots, as well as a handful of more traditional nudes—the models simply out in nature, and not climbing. And there were plenty of images I had not seen before, all of them aesthetically arresting and perfectly composed.
Right now, of course, we miss the rocks and our sport more than ever, because of the coronavirus and ensuing stay-at-home orders and closures of public lands. What better way, then, to pass the time and reconnect with these places that mean so much to us than with Fidelman’s excellent new book? A lot of heart, craft, and mastery went into composing these images—flip through Stone Nudes: Climbing Bare and you’ll see.