From the ever-changing Namibian desert to the almost psychedelic tidal patterns off the Mozambican coastline, Jay and Jan Roode have experienced, and captured, surreal sights of nature at its finest. Their photographs could quite easily be mistaken for artworks … which is the theme of their new book.
Some measure wealth in assets. Others, like Melville’s Jay and Jan Roode, feel richer from their ‘grand adventure of photographing Africa from above’.
You really can’t blame them … their experiences of capturing images of landscapes and wildlife from their Jabiru aircraft, since quitting their corporate jobs more than a decade ago, are tough to compete with.
Jay, with a smile to rival Julia Roberts, speaks of their lifestyle in a profoundly poetic way. ‘When Jan got his pilot’s licence and when we first explored the endless African skies, we didn’t just find a passion. We found an obsession. And more specifically, we fell in love with the different perspective of the world that turned the ordinary into the extraordinary,’ she says.
After publishing our first interview with this couple in June last year, we caught up with them again, and they did more than just describe their experiences to us. To our delight, they showed us. One drizzly morning in early November, Jan took us for a flight over Kapama Private Game Reserve near Hoedspruit. We got to feel the adrenaline rush of taking flight and the utter thrill Jay must experience when finding a beautiful sight, opening the little window, feeling the thick rush of air, positioning her lens and capturing it from above. We were lucky not to have experienced turbulence … one of the tricky parts of Jay’s job. ‘I have literally given myself a black eye,’ she exclaims. We photographed the green treetops and the dams, the windy roads and even one of the Big Five. It was exhilarating … and we understood immediately what Jay refers to when she says their journey has redefined what wealth and success mean to them. ‘We may not be wealthier but we are infinitely richer as people,’ she says.
The couple have now made their extraordinary images and adventurers accessible to so many more people in their new coffee-table book, Aerial Art, which explores colours, textures and contours. It’s not country-specific, rather, it delves into the deserts, the oceans and the bushveld of southern Africa.
Their book is a final step to sharing their images rather than just storing them on a hard drive … which Jay likens to ‘an artist painting a canvas and then turning it around and sticking it in a cupboard.’ Their book also allows others to read the hypnotic and utterly romantic way in which Jay describes what they’ve experienced … which is often just as beautiful as the images. In Jan’s words, Jay’s writing is ‘incredible’.
Of course, with years of exploring southern Africa and living out of their aircraft, stocking up on supplies at nearby towns and camping under one of the wings – ‘No lodge can compare’ – comes with many encounters with wildlife. Once, they were charged by a hippo in the delta. Jan says, ‘I don’t think I’ve ever taken off so quickly in my entire life!’ Another time, they were stuck inside their plane for hours, as it was surrounded by wild dogs. In the Kalahari, they returned to find a zebra on the top of their plane, eating the propeller. Hyenas once chewed their plane’s tyres. The anecdotes are endless … and downright magical for any nature lover.
Jay talks of their work as being a collaboration with nature, and she says, ‘The beauty and possibilities are endless … no one moment is ever the same.’ Their quiet aircraft enables them to capture these fleeting moments without disturbing the scene. This is probably best seen by the photograph of the flamingos on one of the book’s two cover options. Jay was able to capture these usually sensitive birds ‘completely unaware’ in a pan near Walvis Bay.
Their photography is so much more than about pretty pictures though. It’s a form of activism, says Jay. ‘It’s a way of communicating our passion for these incredible, unique, vast wilderness spaces and most nature photographers I know [are] very generous with sharing their photos because it’s not about them. It’s about nature. It’s about wildlife.’
They aim for their work to be conservation-oriented in the future. ‘It’s not self-indulgent. It’s got to have a purpose for us to go and do it,’ says Jay. They also use their images to inspire hope and bring about change, and Jay believes firmly ‘in our own ways, we can do a lot. If I look at my little garden in Melville, there was not one tree when we bought that house. It’s now a forest, and everything’s indigenous… You just think, that even in a tiny little patch, you can make a difference.’
They also aim to make a difference in the lives of those they meet along their journeys, and they’ve taken some of the local people who’ve never had the chance to fly, to see their world from above. Jan recalls fondly how one child described the sight of the beautiful waters of Mozambique from the sky as ‘a giant spinach pie’.
They’re passing on their skills, too, through bespoke aerial photographic safaris and workshops.
Just as they lend a hand to others, Jan says, ‘The innate human generosity we have discovered everywhere we’ve landed has been absolutely astonishing. The friendliness and openness of the people of southern Africa have truly touched my heart. We’ve always had someone to help us out whenever we’ve needed it.’ In the book, you’ll find how they’ve turned mishaps into adventures.
It’s difficult not to feel moved when you look at Jay’s photos, and it’s tough to imagine she’s a self-taught photographer. ‘I think one of the nicest things is when people have said to me that they feel emotional when they look at the photos. That for me is the biggest compliment that I could ever get because I felt emotional when I took them, and I wanted to portray the reverence I have for these incredible spaces through the images.’
Details: aerial-africa.com or @aerialafricasafaris on Instagram.
If you have a love of nature photography from unique perspectives, then you need a copy of Jay and Jan Roode’s new book, Aerial Art, on your coffee table. It’s super stylish with a magnetic clip hardcover case. R980, HPH Publishing. There’s also a limited-edition cover with a voucher, R1960. Details: hphpublishing.co.za