Eddee Daniel is a photographer and blogger based in Wauwatosa, WI.
Madison: Where did you grow up? What do you do now?
Eddee Daniel: I live in Wau-wa-to-sa, an Indian name that means “firefly." But I often say Milwaukee instead; close enough when I’m out of the area. That’s another Indian name: “meeting of the waters.” One of the waters, the Menomonee River is a short walk from my house. Going there can take me a long way from home. Milwaukee is a fine place to live—if you don’t count the second half of winter, from Feb to Apr. I still miss spring, which I loved in NY where I spent my first 20 years. No, not the city: a suburb north of New Jersey. Near the Hudson, but my river then was a creek called Nauraushaun. I left NY to attend U.W Madison, then landed in Milwaukee where there were teaching opportunities.
I am an artist/teacher. I did both for … well, a long time until I stopped the teaching part in 2011 to devote myself to the artist part. Now it's artist/writer. I taught photography, architecture, graphic design, drawing, ceramics, art history: there’s a lot of art in the world, thank goodness! Creativity is key to teaching as well as art. Like a shark, you have to keep moving forward or you die. Art and teaching have a lot in common: They have no impact if you’re doing them for yourself.
As for the writing part, I am the author of Urban Wilderness: Exploring a Metropolitan Watershed, a reflection in the spirit of Aldo Leopold on living in place. In my case, the place is an urban watershed blessed with opportunities to come into contact with nature. My artistic practice has increasingly included the design and creation of photographic books with themes related to and inspired by the concept of urban wilderness. My website is www.eddeedaniel.com.
M: You are a very talented photographer, when did you begin taking photos?
ED: I had a brownie camera in high school but didn’t take up photography in a serious way until I took a photo class when I was a junior at U.W. Madison. I didn’t set out to be a photographer. As an art education major, my course of studies included a broad variety of artistic disciplines.
M: When did you start blogging? Were you initially drawn to blogging?
ED: My first blog post is still online, dated 2010. I wasn’t actually drawn to blogging at first. It was recommended to me. I am indebted to Mary Louise Schumacher, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel arts reporter, for that recommendation. Once I got the bug, though, I was hooked. Although it is almost a cliché that artists prefer expressing themselves visually rather than verbally, I’m rarely at a loss for words. I feel fortunate to have had good English teachers early in my life.
M: In terms of blogging, what has been your main focus?
ED: For a long time I divided my attention between the arts and the environment. For six years I kept up two blogs, which I called Arts Without Borders and Urban Wilderness. In the former I mostly wrote about other people’s artistic endeavors, while the latter was where I shared my ideas and work related to the environment. In 2017 I decided to discontinue Arts Without Borders to devote myself entirely to Urban Wilderness.
Regarding the main focus of my artistic practice, I’ve chosen to identify with the oxymoronic concept of Urban Wilderness in order to emphasize the interrelationship between human culture and nature. I believe that humans are inextricably embedded in nature and that the grievous environmental problems that we currently face, such as climate change, pollution and the extinction of species, are attributable in large part to the alienation from nature that is a consequence of the artificial distinction between the human and the natural.
For me, Urban Wilderness is a hopeful concept. For our physical, mental and spiritual health, we need nature in our lives. The parks and open spaces in and near the city—or wherever we live—are essential to our well-being. The Milwaukee metropolitan area is blessed to have many opportunities to experience nearby nature. That is the story I wish to tell.
M: Why is the environment important to you?
ED: Why is water important to a fish? If everyone understood the environment to be the water in which we swim and without which we would quickly expire then we would cease to wonder why the environment is important.
M: Lastly for those who wonder, why should one care about the environment?
ED: Because it is where we live. The more we mess it up the more impoverished our lives become. Try posing the question this way: “Why should you care about your home?” The answer is fairly self-evident. I attended a conference recently with the theme of “finding resilience in nature.” One of the presenters was the chief of a small Indian tribe in California called the Winnemem Wintu, whose ancestral lands had been inundated by the enormous Shasta Dam. She spoke of how often people take water for granted and how disconnected they can be from the sources of clean drinking water. “If you had to drink from the river,” she said, “you would take care of it.”
Just as water that comes from the faucet or a bottle, must first have come from a source in the environment, so too our whole lives must be lived in the environment. The problem is that the term “the environment” has been politicized in a way that for many people it no longer represents the place where we must live, that we must take care of.
In order to take an ideological position on “the environment,” or politicize it, one must see it as an abstraction rather than the actual place where one lives. Those who are fortunate enough to live where it is safe, where there is clean water and a decent standard of living, can afford to perpetuate the false dichotomy between humans and nature, for now. But it comes at a cost that will become more and more evident the more we degrade our home: the environment.
We should care about the environment—nature, the Earth—because it provides everything that we need to live, because it can nurture our spirits, because it is beautiful.