Jody MacDonald is no ordinary photographer. For nearly the past decade, she's called a 60-foot catamaran her home as she's sailed to the far corners of the earth on a global kiteboarding, paragliding, and surfing expedition that's taken her to over 60 countries.
MacDonald, who was born in Saudi Arabia and has been traveling the world since she was a child, documents extreme sports, spectacular landscapes, and everyday scenes that open a breathtaking window on different cultures, from India to Mauritania to Morocco. “I am a photographer because it is my one true love,” she tells us.
We had the chance to ask MacDonald a few questions about her photography, explorations, and adventures. Scroll down to read that exclusive interview, lightly edited for clarity and length.
My Modern Met: What was your journey to realizing you wanted to pursue photography as a profession?
Jody MacDonald: When I was young, my favorite classes in school were art and physical education. I grew up in Saudi Arabia, and for some reason it instilled in me a penchant for adventure. In university, I ended up majoring in Outdoor Recreation. For some of my alternative classes, I took photography. I ended up falling in love with the creative medium and started taking a camera on my outdoor pursuits. My career has really just progressed from there.
MMM: For the past 10 years, you've been the resident photographer on a catamaran embarked on a kiteboarding, paragliding, and surfing expedition around the world. How did that come about?
JM: Yes, I lived at sea for almost a decade. I ended up meeting my business partner; he was doing charters in the South Pacific at the time. I didn't like the charter business, so we ended up selling that sailboat in Thailand and then came up with a business model that we thought would eliminate what we didn't like about chartering, and would allow us to continue to pursue what we loved about sailing. We ended up creating a business that does 5-year world kiteboarding expeditions by catamaran. Our business still running today and is called “The Cabrinha Quest.” I travel too much now to be onboard, so we have a crew that runs the boat.
MMM: What does a typical day (or as “typical” as it can be) look like for you? What are some joys and challenges of this lifestyle?
JM: I definitely don't have a typical day, and that's one of the many things I love about my job. It does usually begin waking up very early to make sure that I photograph in the morning light, and it ends late in the day. A lot of my day really depends on the project or story I'm working on and the location that I'm in.
I think some of the joys and rewards of my job are that of course I get to travel, explore, have a lot of different experiences, and meet a lot of different people. Trying to photograph in different cultures always has a learning curve that I enjoy trying to figure out and understand. You have to be open-minded, curious, and like a certain amount of discomfort. The more challenging elements of my job often emerge when I return home. I travel so much that it's hard to maintain a relationship. Your friends always assume you're gone, so they stop calling, and you end up spending an unhealthy amount of time in the office and on the computer.
MMM: What's the key to supporting yourself through your passions?
JM: I would say there are few key things that help support my passions. First is persistence. I cannot imagine not doing photography and therefore I continue to pursue it incessantly. The other key factors would be constantly working on improving my skills and choosing jobs I'm passionate about, and more importantly, saying no to the ones I'm not.
MMM: You shoot a variety of photos, from travel to adventure to lifestyle. Is there a specific genre or subject matter you find yourself more drawn to?
JM: Adventure will always be apart of my life, but I find myself really drawn to remote places and unique cultures. As I travel, I find the world becoming more westernized and, as a result, feel an urgency to document the special places and traditions that are being lost.
MMM: What makes a photo and an adventure memorable to you?
JM: I think the really good photographs are timeless. They aren't manufactured or set up. They capture an incredible moment in time in such a way that it is as compelling and interesting a day from now or 100 years from now. Those photographs are rare, but they are the great ones.
What makes an adventure memorable to me is usually when things go wrong, but you get to share those challenging moments with great people who don't take themselves or life too seriously. When you have that combination, I think great adventures can be found anywhere.
MMM: Where are some of the places you've traveled to, and where do you hope to go in the future?
JM: I grew up in Saudi Arabia and ended up traveling the world as a child, so before I even began sailing for 10 years, I had already traveled a lot. In my years of sailing, I went to over 60 countries. Some of those include the Caribbean, Panama, Chile, Ecuador, French Polynesia, Micronesia, Indonesia, Thailand, Madagascar, Mozambique, and South Africa. I recently did a project for Leica in Mauritania on the west coast of Africa that I really enjoyed. This spring I'm headed back to India, then onto Papua New Guinea and Japan. In the future, I hope to spend more time in the more obscure parts of Africa as well as the Middle East. The more remote, the better.
My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by Jody MacDonald.