An image from CU freshman Kelsey Brunner’s collection "Free Climb" for her intro photography class.
An image from CU freshman Kelsey Brunner's collection "Free Climb" for her intro photography class. (Courtesy photo/Kelsey Brunner)

University of Colorado freshman Kelsey Brunner, who's been dabbling in photography as a hobby since she was little, was tired of looking at climbing photos the same way -- colorful gear, jaw-dropping heights, emotional facial expressions, tons of ropes and crash pads.

So she took being a Buff a little more literally.

Brunner decided to shoot a series of climbers in the nude as the final project for her class, Photography 1. It's an introductory photo class that teaches students about the dark room and 35mm film cameras, a dying art in the age of Photoshop and Instagram.

Her piece is titled "Free Climb" because the women she photographed described the feeling of freedom while climbing au naturel.

"I had three people tell me, 'This is so liberating. I just want to climb naked from now on,'" Brunner said. "They felt really freed."

As a CU student, Brunner climbed often this year with a group of her friends and, naturally, became their resident photographer.

She approached three climbing friends -- nervously -- and asked them if they'd strip for the sake of art. Surprisingly, they said yes. She asked if anyone from the Alpine Club at CU wanted to participate, and five women volunteered to climb in their birthday suits.

"You're kind of empowering yourself to go out of our comfort zone," she said. "Climbing is also empowering. You have the adrenaline rush, and you're also very exposed."

Brunner, who's double majoring in photography and environmental science, drew inspiration for the series from photographer Dean Fidelman's "Stone Nudes." Originally, she wanted to make her photos a little more eerie to show the rawness of the human body climbing.

As she began shooting, she noticed that no matter what position the women climbed in, they created beautiful, elegant lines.

"I was hoping to make them more tense because it's very tough and takes a lot of strength," Brunner said. "Doing it, the human body is beautiful itself. Women are just naturally beautiful. Their form is beautiful."

Her goal is to someday work for Patagonia or National Geographic. Brunner said she wants to travel the world and photograph "heart wrenching" things like poverty as well as adventure sports like climbing and river rafting.

She ran the undressed climbers idea by her instructor, graduate student Jenna Montazeri, who said the university doesn't generally frown upon nudity or art projects that are "outside the box," as long as no one gets hurt.

The pillars of her class are pushing students to be uncomfortable and to stay away from taking cliché photographs. She wants them to think critically before composing a photograph, she said.

"How do we move beyond something we expect to see?" Montazeri said. "How can we use image making as a communicational tool that's a little less predictable and a little more about how we personally are seeing the world?"

--Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.