I met photographer Dean Fidelman while living in Yosemite National Park in 1999, and for years I invested everything I had—physically, energetically, spiritually, and financially—into his StoneNudes project. This attempt to build a something that would financially support a complete immersion into art, nature, community collaboration, social activism, and a life well-lived sparked a sense of purpose I’ve been both refining and expanding ever since. Though I ultimately chose to distance myself from the always-fraught business side of StoneNudes, Dean and I have remained very close friends and artistic collaborators.
Climbing podcast Enormocast recently published not one but two entire episodes’ worth of an interview with Dean (here’s Part 1 and here’s Part 2), and they’re fantastic. As someone who came of age listening to climbers’ yarns around Yosemite campfires, and who regularly groans at the media’s lazy sensationalization of Dean’s work, I have to say that it is a rare treat to hear the man himself explain, at length and very eloquently, why he does the work he does.
All other accounts leave out what I believe are the most important elements of his story: his deep appreciation for his mentors, his community (including those who have left us), the places that inspire his work, his commitment to giving back, and the reality of what it’s like to walk in his shoes… the mismatched shoes of our deceased friend Sean, as the case happens be.
Chris van Leuven spent quite a bit of time at our house in high school, so much so that I often thought of him as the third sibling in the family. Things at his house weren’t going that well, we gathered, but neither my brother nor I asked many questions. Instead, we would bring him home after our afternoon sessions at the local boulders or climbing gym. We’d let his endless stream of words, spoken in such animated, rapid succession that anyone else would have struggled to comprehend, melt into our own stories from the day. Often, all three of us would be speaking at the same time, but that didn’t hinder our understanding.
In the Spring of 1996, I was just finishing my first year of college in Montreal while Chris was actually living our high school dream of dirtbagging in Yosemite Valley. Nicknamed Maverick, of course he did it with unconventional flair: in a company tuxedo, serving as host in the Ahwahnee dining room, often running down off a climb to pull the disgustingly-grimy-on-the-inside “white” tuxedo shirt over his still-sweaty torso.
Yesterday Dean let me know that Stanley, a long-ago friend of mine that he was still close to, has passed.
Each time I hear news like this, I remember my other since-departed friends from that era of my life, their number growing with the number of years since I have been in touch with any of them. And so today I think of Jose and Micah in addition to Stanley.