This pro is using a camera to get everyone outside
By Hayley Lynch
Dudley Edmondson braves freezing temperatures, skips sleep and spends days sitting in homemade blinds to get the perfect shot. But he isn’t a hunter. Edmondson shoots wildlife with a camera instead.
He’s always on the lookout for a good shot. Driving down the highway south of his Duluth, Minnesota home one day, he noticed bald eagles congregating around a pile of road-killed deer carcasses. “It was a great opportunity to take some pictures,” Edmondson said.
After getting permission from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, which owned the property and used it as a collection area for carcasses, he put up a blind to photograph the eagles. “In order to make the blind work for you,” Edmondson explained, “you have to get there before sunup and leave after dark, so the birds don’t know you’re there.”
He piled his camera equipment into his Honda Civic and drove back to the site with his wife Nancy before dawn. As he dragged the deer carcasses closer to the blind, she followed in the car, shining the headlights so he could see. Then she drove away, leaving Edmondson in single-digit cold to wait for the eagles. He did this every weekend that winter.
While taking a break from photographing eagles nearby, Edmondson took this shot of Lake Superior's frigid winter shoreline.
Edmondson later traveled the U.S., capturing images of nature’s most interesting and elusive species. He learned animals’ habits, behaviors, mating and migration patterns so he could get his shots.
In his travels, however, Edmondson never felt quite right. “I couldn’t figure out why I was uncomfortable,” he said. “Then I realized – I was the only black person out there.”
So he turned his lens from wildlife to people. In 2002, he began traveling the country in search of people like him – African-Americans who loved the outdoors. He photographed them hunting, hiking, managing wildlife, patrolling national parks and more. He listened to their stories and put words to pictures, hoping the result would inspire more people to get outside.
Publisher after publisher rejected Edmondson’s book proposal. Finally, it came to Jim Mallman, president of Watchable Wildlife, Inc. “Within 15 minutes I knew we were going to take his book,” said Mallman. “It was exactly what we were looking for.”
In Edmondson’s photography and writing, Mallman found the people he wanted all Americans to know – black men and women who loved the outdoors. Their numbers were few, but if people saw and read about them, maybe that would change.
“Dudley found Americans – African-Americans – who had built their lives around wildlife conservation. And he asked them what made them tick,” Mallman said. “These are great individuals and that’s what the book is about.”
In Edmondson’s book, “Black & Brown Faces in America’s Wild Places,” a big game hunter shares the thrill of the chase. A wildlife biologist discusses the importance of raising her daughters close to nature. On every page, Edmondson uses his camera to bring their stories to life.
“I wanted to encourage African-Americans to re-connect with nature – to enjoy it the way I did,” Edmondson said. “I thought the best way to do that would be to tell their stories. Maybe then, people would feel like the outdoors is for everyone.”
Edmondson and Mallman traveled the country to share their vision of getting more people involved in the outdoors, including a visit to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources’ Salato Wildlife Education Center in February.
Many people who came to hear Edmondson speak – the event was standing room only - didn’t even know the Salato Center existed. His event introduced an entirely new group of people to the outdoor education programs the Center offers. “He has gone beyond being an outdoor photographer to being an activist for a very important cause,” said Salato Director Laurie Davison. “And he is an effective one.”
Edmondson still feels most at home in the woods, behind a camera. Some day, if his message spreads, he just might find himself surrounded by all kinds of faces.