The 2019 Stone Nude Calendar Will Be the Last
To keep the small-run calendar project afloat, the photographer washed dishes in Argentine Patagonia and cleaned carpets in Yosemite Valley. But he never made money on it, and now he's decided it's finally time to call it quits.
The sun’s heat cooks up the Sierra’s wild sage surrounding the Mobil mart in Lee Vining, California, as 62-year-old Dean “Bullwinkle” Fidelman looks out at Mono Lake and the White Mountains. He’s waiting for a woman named Jamie to arrive for what he knows will be the last image for his final Stone Nudes climbing calendar, which he’s put out each year since 1999.
“I started Stone Nudes as a path and a way to make my art,” he says of the calendar. “I’ve lost a lot and I’ve gained a lot, but I’m done with that loss for a bit.”
Originally from Northridge, California, in the San Fernando Valley, Fidelman has been a climbing dirtbag since the mid-1970s. For the last 45 years he’s called Yosemite, the Sierra East Side, and Joshua Tree home. Like a journalist on a never-ending tour with a rock band, he’s captured the local hardcore climbing scene and his work appears in film, books, and magazines. To date, he’s produced the titles The Stonemasters: California Rock Climbers in the Seventies (2009)Stone Nudes: Art in Motion (2010)The Valley Climbers: Yosemite’s Vertical Revolution (2012)Yosemite in the 50s: The Iron Age (2015).
Twenty years ago, after quitting work as a fashion photographer in New York and Milan, he found himself back in Yosemite, 40 years old, and once again living in the dirt behind Camp 4. He knew something had to change. “I asked myself what my most successful photos were," he says. "I came up my old Stonemasters work and landscape and studio nudes. By putting those two ideas together, I thought I could make it work.”
His early Stone Nude shots were taken at the same boulders he captured the Stonemasters on. That first year, and each year after, he printed 1,000 calendars at a personal cost of $6,500 per year. Earlier this year, Fidelman lost his job cleaning carpets in Yosemite Valley, and decided it was time to call the project quits.
To support his final calendar, Fidelman started a Kickstarter campaign, which has already raised more than $7,000. Outside recently caught up with Fidelman to get a few behind the scenes stories on some of his most memorable shoots.
Liz Ü; Turtle Back Dome, above Inspiration Point; 1999
When Liz arrived in Yosemite Valley in the late 1990s, she quickly fell in love with the area and the “Stone Monkeys,” a ragtag crew of cutting edge climbers living the same lifestyle Fidelman had for decades. She believed so emphatically in Fidelman and his project that she poured everything she had into working with him. Over 20 years with her as his muse, the two developed a deep connection, making it natural, commonplace even, for her to de-robe in front of his camera.
Kevin Thaw; El Chaco, El Chaltén, Argentine Patagonia; 2004
On a trip to South America, Fidelman was broke and stuck in El Chaltén, the gateway town to the great Patagonian alpine objectives Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy. “Some guys identified me and they asked why I was there,” Fidelman says. “I said I needed a job. I worked as a handyman and dishwasher in exchange for food.” While in town, Fidelman captured climber Kevin Thaw waiting out the legendary bad weather for his turn on Cerro Torre.
Name withheld; Fort Ross area, Salt Point, California; 2013
Fidelman and this woman, who wished to remain anonymous, drove for three hours talking about life, love, and climbing to reach Salt Point, a beach over pocketed cliffs north of San Francisco. Coming around the corner they saw this boulder and stopped. There she undressed and Dean took a roll of film, ten shots in all. “She looked amazing and fit. It had this balance," he says.
“I did Stone Nudes for a number of years,” she says today. “It was never about the shot. He is so quirky, so intense, and so driven by his art that it always felt special to be a part of that. It was always the full spectrum of emotion and connection.”
Chris Van Leuven; Buttermilk boulders, Bishop, California; 2001
Inspired to live the lifestyle I read about in Steve Roper’s Camp 4: Recollections of a Yosemite Rock Climber, I moved to Yosemite right out of high school. To make a living I got a job cleaning rooms at the Ahwahnee Hotel (now the called the Majestic). Soon after arriving I began climbing naked, simply because I could and it felt liberating. But I had never been photographed in the act until Fidelman invited me to make Stone Nude in the Buttermilks near Bishop, California. I remember my nervousness as I dropped my shorts onto the rough sand, walked over to the boulder, and felt the sharp stone digging into my bare toes.
Sammy, Redstone boulders, Redstone, Colorado, 2016
Two years ago, Fidelman was staying in Boulder, Colorado, with Lynn Hill, waiting for the right light to take a photo. But conditions weren’t lining up, so he followed up with a lead from his friend Nick Rosen, of Sender Films, who told him about an acquaintance named Sammy who was “fit and fearless and wanted do this.” Dean headed five hours west to meet her in the high country town of Redstone, Colorado. “It’s a very difficult pose to hold,” he says. “But she allowed herself to be vulnerable to make art.”
Dean Potter; Separate Reality, Yosemite Valley; 2006
Few names are more familiar in the world of outdoor adventure than the late aerialist, speed climber, and free soloist Dean Potter. Fidelman met Potter in 1997 in Yosemite Valley and the two became fast friends, spending afternoons in El Cap meadow and in the boulders above Camp 4 where they hung out and climbed. As evidenced here, not all of Fidelman's climbing photos were sans clothes.