Dudley Edmondson is a Minnesota-based photographer, environmentalist, activist and writer whose work primarily focuses on nature, ecosystems and global activism. Edmondson’s 2006 book, Black and Brown Faces in America’s Wild Places, was a pioneering work that highlighted the underrepresentation of people of colour (POC) in outdoor spaces, calling for action to address this issue. Edmondson demonstrates the values held by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, specifically Life on Land and Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, through his equity-driven photography, prints and books. 

What is your process like when you are preparing to take a photograph?

At this point in my career, I look for things that catch my eye, such as reflections of water or droplets on vegetation. Things like colour, texture and shape. I am open-ended as I move through a space, at least when it comes to nature photography. A lot of the time what I am doing is looking at the screen on my camera — I'll use that often times for composition. Figuring out what should be in and shouldn't be there.

Beaver River Falls by Dudley Edmondson. Image courtesy of Dudley Edmondson.

How has your photography developed since the release of your book, Black and brown faces in America's Wild Places?

The major change is that before the book's release, I exclusively worked with nature subjects like birds, plants and landscapes. So people became a new subject. After the book's release, I started to see more of the importance of showing images of people, particularly people of colour in the environment and nature. People of colour have always had this very visceral connection to nature and the environment. There is this connection, people understand existence is made by nature. So, I try to take those kinds of images.

Portrait of Dudley Edmondson. Image courtesy of Dudley Edmondson.

Since 2006, have you noticed more people of colour in nature-related spaces?

Yeah, I mean it's been a huge jump. At one time, I was foolish enough to ask the question “Am I really the only black person who enjoys nature?” Quickly realized that wasn't true. There was a lot of space between myself and others and I would say those gaps have closed significantly in the last 15 to 16 years and even more so recently. I think the murder of George Floyd and COVID-19 got more people of colour outdoors. People were bored during the pandemic and being in the house. Going outside was something they could do and be relatively safe. George Floyd's murder, I think people were trying to figure out psychologically how to process the murder. How someone could kneel on someone's neck for 10 or 15 minutes and expect that person to live or not be held responsible for their death? That was something that not just Black Americans, but Americans of colour and I imagine even some white Americans had to deal with that. I think accessing nature would have helped some of them do so.

Pollinator Monarch Butterflies by Dudley Edmondson. Image courtesy of Dudley Edmondson.

You make a connection between people of colour and nature, could you elaborate on that a bit more? 

In urban spaces heavily regulated and controlled by governmental systems force all of us, but particularly people of colour to behave a certain way — so that you don't seem threatening to people. When you're in these spaces you have to be a certain way, but when you're out of doors on public lands and in wilderness spaces, it is not necessary. You can be what I consider to be truly free, mentally and physically. Physical and mental freedom is different for white people than for people of colour. I try to encourage people of colour to go outdoors and experience some sense of freedom. Solitude allows you to think sort of freely, process information and analyze the world we live in. 

How do you hope your photography and work can influence those who maybe don't care about global preservation? 

I work with an organization called Vital Impacts and they sell art of nature and use the proceeds to protect habitats and species – everything from rhinos to polar bears and elephants. It is the least I can do to allow them to sell my images and raise money for conservation. Ultimately, I hope my work is inspirational enough to get people to understand that we need to do more to mitigate climate change and natural disasters. The loss of habitat, in particular, a loss of pollinators, people don't realize how important insects are to their daily lives. They make the food we eat most of and the reality is that if we don't do a better job of conservation and environmental protection, the only thing going to be lost is us.

Trillium by Dudley Edmondson. Image courtesy of Dudley Edmondson.

What's something that nature has taught you that people can't?

To slow down. Humans and nature move at very different speeds. I notice when I slow down nature becomes more obvious to me. I see things that I wouldn't have seen had I not spent 20 minutes standing in one spot in the woods. Nature's taught me to slow down and appreciate the things around me. Humans are always in a rush to do the next thing and if we don’t slow down, we’ll miss things. 

What's next for you? 

I'm finishing my fourth book, The People the Planet Needs Now. It’s a book of BIPOC scientists and environmental and social justice activists with global connections and perspectives, talking about their work. Alongside the problems, they see with current policies and the protection of spaces and the separation of people in nature which seems super obvious to people of colour. But for some reason, people of European ancestry don't seem to be able to acknowledge that people in nature are one, there's not one in the other. That's one of the messages that I hope comes across when people read the book, we put ourselves in danger of extinction if we don’t acknowledge it [humans are nature]. 

Edmondon’s book, The People the Planet Needs Now is set to be released in January 2025 alongside several film projects. He continues to work as an outdoor wilderness educator and often participates in hiking retreats for POC youth. 

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