The Urban Wilderness galleries represent a small portion of work that began in 1997 and is on-going. As with much of my work, it is intended as a bridge between art and activism. The various projects that are included under the broad theme of Urban Wilderness are unified by its vision of an environment that integrates what is urban and what is wild. I live in a city and I live with nature and I live within a paradox that I perceive as urban wilderness.
Exploring the Wild: At its inception, the Urban Wilderness Project was documentary in nature. I set out to explore and discover for myself the watershed in which I live. I walked along nearly every public mile of riverside and stream, documenting the wealth of natural beauty, the environmental degradation, as well as places where revitalization and restoration had occurred or was underway. The result is a comprehensive body of work that has been published as Urban Wilderness: Exploring a Metropolitan Watershed. (Excerpts may be seen at excerpts. A project description may be seen at Urban Wilderness.)
County Grounds: The Urban Wilderness project grew out of an earlier one, entitled Discovering the Milwaukee County Grounds: A Land for All Seasons. This was the first time that I deliberately set out to create artwork as advocacy. It was a response to a specific issue, a proposal by Milwaukee County to sell off a huge parcel of publicly owned land. I visited the grounds at least once a week for an entire year and created an exhibit that combined my photographs with poetry. The exhibit traveled throughout the Milwaukee area.
In 2006 I revisited the County Grounds to bear witness to the new circumstances. The county had bowed to public opinion and most of the land was not sold. However, 2006 was the year that massive change began to happen and I again set out to document those changes. This led to the County Grounds 2006 photo essay. (More at County Grounds.)
Moments in the Wild: During this time I also began to expand my vision and artistic style beyond the documentary. Urban Wilderness has always been about the meanings and perceptions of wilderness as it is experienced in an urbanized context. In the series called Moments in the Wild, I shift to a new, more subjective reflection on my subjects. Sometimes there is an overt reference to the context, but the urban settings are not always evident in the images. It is rather the emotional reaction to the discovery of nature and some aspect of the wild that is emphasized. Through digital manipulation, these images are stylized: given soft edges, muted colors, and a directed gaze. This is to express the emotional concentration of energy that I experience when I actually explore these places and discover for myself the inherent qualities that lift them into the realm of a wilderness experience. (View gallery at Moments.)
Milwaukee River Greenway: In 2007, a partnership of individuals and organizations called the Milwaukee Work Group (now the Milwaukee River Greenway Coalition) began a new initiative to protect the Milwaukee River corridor. This work will lead to the realization of one of the overriding goals of the Urban Wilderness Projects: preserving the natural character of long stretches of contiguous river corridor. I have combined photographs that I've made over several years with current explorations of this vital portion of Milwaukee's open green space. (More at Milwaukee River Greenway.)
Urban Wilderness Project : This is an on-going effort to document and promote parks and natural areas in the Milwaukee region and elsewhere. A full description of this project and its mission is at Urban Wilderness Project mission.
Urban Wilderness Project mission
Link to The Story, interview about Urban Wilderness on NPR
Milwaukee River Greenway project description and gallery
Urban Wilderness project description
Excerpts from Urban Wilderness: Exploring a Metropolitan Watershed
Selections from The Milwaukee County Grounds: A Land for All Seasons
County Grounds 2006 essay
Open Letter to County Board 2009
Article: Finding Nature in the City, 2009
Urban Wilderness image galleries
More images available in specific sets on flickr