Photographer Captures African-American Connections to the Natural World – Dudley Edmondson

Dudley Edmondson, Outdoor Afro guest blogger, photographer, and author of Black and Brown Faces in America’s Wild Places, goes on in this second part to share how he came to photograph African Americans in the outdoors.
Read Part 1
In the four-year process of doing Black and Brown Faces in America’s Wild Places, I have met some pretty cool people who understand what I am talking about. It has clearly changed the direction of my photographic work. I find myself not just interested in the plants and animals that live on the land but the people who sometimes share those environments with them.
People like Steven Shobe and Elliott Boston, two World Class climbers and mountaineers. These two men have climb on nearly every continent on earth in places like Russia, France, Germany and the continents of South America and Africa. They’ve seen a lot of places, a lot of people, and a lot of the natural world. I became interested in their stories after finding Elliott and getting him to agree to be featured in my book.
I was fascinated by mountains and mountaineers after reading Jon Krakauer’s “Into thin Air” and people who risk their lives climbing them intrigued me. In order to photograph climbers I learned you also have to climb as well. That did not sit well with me at first and still bothers me a bit. I wanted to watch them do what they do but not do it myself. Needless to say hanging out with these two I have now climbed in the Ozark Mountains, climbed halfway up Devil’s Tower in Wyoming and ice climbed in Ouray, Colorado. It is something I don’t think I will ever get use to but would jump at the chance to work with Steven and Elliott wherever they find themselves in the world. Working in the open voids of mountain gorges, ravines and peaks does give you a view of the world most people will never see and I am glad I have had the experience and as long as Steven and Elliott are there it will be memorable.
I believe focusing my lens on people like Steven and Elliott will help paint a more complete picture of what African Americans and other people of color are doing. It shows the world that there is diversity among ethnically diverse people and we are capable of so much more than the narrow scoped, negative images the media shows us. I believe in this so much that I have staked my photographic future on it and I very comfortable with that.
Photo: Dudley Edmondson on the shores of Lake Superior near Silver Bay, MN by Nancy Latour-Edmondson

Photographer Captures African-American Connections to the Natural World

Dudley Edmondson

Introducing guest blogger Dudley Edmondson, an African American photographer who shares how he came to photograph African Americans in the outdoors. This is the first of 2 parts:
You know photography has been a part of my life so long it is difficult to remember when it all started. It began as a way to document my bird sightings as a birder way back when I was a freshman in college. Then the idea of it becoming a potential career became a reality when I decided to move from Ohio to Minnesota. I decided Minnesota had everything I needed to be a successful nature photographer so I put down roots in Duluth the gateway to the great north woods full of eagles, wolves and many other exciting species not found in Ohio.
Things all came together after several years and after a very successful career as a nature photographer I decided to challenge myself again and become an author. The subject matter would be very different from what I had done as a photographer. This time I wanted to tell the story of people like me, African Americans who had a deep and unwavering connection to the earth and nature. The book project became “Black and Brown Faces in Americas Wild Places”
These people I felt could help black folks from coast to coast find their way back to the natural world their African ancestors once knew as well as they now know their own backyards. I am certain that as humans our mental and physical being is inexplicably tied to the natural world around us. People who submerge themselves in nature both physically and mentally our simply healthier people. That is the message I have tried to convey with my book. Trying to get people to understand that is not always easy. If you tell someone that the health of the ecosystem not only effects their health but that it is actually more important than anything else going on in their lives right now, few would be able to grasp that concept. Without your mental and physical health what do you really have? Without clean water and clean air what good really is anything else you might posses?

How did an Oakland girl like me come to love getting her camp on anyway? Pt. 3


After getting married and starting a family of my own, camping took on a new meaning. For just a short drive and little money, I found camping was one of the most economical ways my new family could take a vacation. During these years I collected essential camping gear, like our first family-sized tent and propane stove from local garage sales and eBay — my family still uses these items today.
But as my family grew, so did the effort of camping. Thus the city of Oakland’s Feather River family camp, situated about two- hundred miles north, became a very attractive option for us. For about $75 per day back then, our family could camp at their beautiful developed site where: three delicious meals a day were prepared (and announced with the toll of a bell), a kind nurse dispensed an endless supply of band-aids, platform tents and cots were already set up, and a refreshingly cool swimming hole was observed by attentive lifeguards. Another bonus of family camp, were the many fun, organized activities and special relationships we developed with the other Oakland families we joined each summer.
Now my children (ages 12, 7, and 6) love the outdoors and every February they begin humming camp songs around the house and double check with me to make sure we are registered for the upcoming summer season!
Aside from our annual Family Camp, we also venture out on local hikes or family bike rides at least monthly. My eldest son is a Boy Scout and he is now developing outdoor skills and going on camping trips with his peers just as I did at his age. I recognize that the fun my kids have now in the natural world is the foundation for a love and engagement with nature that lasts a lifetime and is likely to be shared with their own children.
I still do enjoy tent camping sometimes, but I find that as I approach the big Four-O, I more frequently choose to balance comfort with my outdoor fun — nights of sleeping on just a tarp under the stars have passed me by. I now fantasize often about a future of creeping along the highways in a well-equipped RV, enjoying each state of the Americas, one campground at a time.
Catch-up!: Part 1, Part 2

African American Landscape Artists – The Highwaymen

 

Twenty-six African American landscape artists of Florida were known as “The Highwaymen”. These men (and a few women!) painted their native Florida landscape and would evolve to become a social group of itinerant artists who ventured along local Florida highways (hence their name) to sell works to hotels and businesses for $25 a piece.

The original artist, Alfred Hair, was introduced to the art world by white artist A.E. “Bean” Backus in the 1950’s. Bean encouraged Hair to sell his works, which was a very challenging feat for black artists in the racialized South. But Hair’s passion for making landscape art was persistent — and infectious. He encouraged several of his friends to paint. Together, these self taught artists produced hundreds of pieces over time out of their backyards and garages. Made of inexpensive and practical materials, these works were an important source of livelihood for the artists until demand for their plein air works fell off.

Today however, the value and collectability of Highwaymen paintings have skyrocketed as a result of publicity in the 1990’s that fueled a renewed interest of these artists, who painted passionately and relentlessly outside of the American mainstream gaze.


How did an Oakland girl like me come to love getting her camp on anyway? Pt. 2

Part 1
So every other weekend, until I became a teen, was spent in the country. And while I now see the value of my time there, I distinctly recall lots of boredom in an era that pre-dated ubiquitous cable TV, video, and phone technology. But boredom was what actually propelled me and my playmates to invent games, songs, and dances against the backdrop of the country during the day. Nights were often spent around a large fireplace with family members; swapping tales, playing board games, or a producing “talent shows” for the adult’s amusement.
Back in Oakland, I received a more formal outdoor education with the Girl Scouts and loved our frequent retreats to the many local parks and youth camps. However, as a too-cute-for-the-woods teen, I abandoned my commitment to outdoor activities and did not reconnect with the natural world until I was a young adult living in San Francisco.
In the City, parking limitations and aggressive ticketing practices made owning a car impractical. So bicycling became my primary form of transportation and at the same time my outdoorsy room mates introduced me to extended bike treks to camp or to hike along the coast. I even tried out mountaineering for the first time with Outward Bound (see title photo), where I learned the fundamentals of mountain climbing and the life lesson to “trust my feet”.
Part 3

Wanted: African-American Campers

A Seattle Times article from 2005 explores why blacks are not camping in this Pacific Northwest region with 250, 000 acres of parkland.
“One former ranger, who worked at Deception Pass and other state parks that each hosted up to 400,000 visitors a year, reported seeing fewer than 50 blacks over a 10-year period