Jan and Jay Roode use a specially modified Jabiru J430 four-seater aircraft to document the remarkable landscapes of southern Africa
“I got my first camera, a little red plastic one, when I was nine years old,” says Jay Roode. No one can predict where their first camera is going to take them. But for Roode, that plastic camera has led to a life in the skies.
South African husband and wife team Jan and Jay Roode capture remarkable aerial images of African landscapes, people and wildlife, flying in their specially modified Jabiru J430 four-seater aircraft over Tanzania, Botswana, Angola, Mozambique, Namibia and their home country. Nine-year-old Jay would no doubt be impressed.
Born in Johannesburg, Jay’s background is in nature conservation and environmental management, while Jan, from Orange Free State, was previously a chartered accountant.
A farmer’s moiré pattern of wheat surrounds a pylon in the eastern Free State, South Africa
“We loved travelling from the day we met,” Jay recalls. “It started off as travel photography, including a lot of land-based travel photography. We spent time in Johannesburg’s Central Business District, which was risky at that time, around 1994 and 1995.
“A lot of buildings had been evacuated and it was dangerous. But we had a wonderful time as teenagers, while our parents had meltdowns. We wandered around, taking photos of buskers and people selling stuff on the streets, and learned to develop our photos. We both also love going to rural communities, sustainable developments and protected spaces.”
Their careers took off when Jan got his pilot’s licence and the pair purchased their own plane.
“We started off just doing aerial photography and flying as part of corporate life, and then gave it all up and did it permanently,” Jan says. “We threw ourselves in at the deep end and I got my flying experience. Within one month, we flew up to Botswana and around Namibia.” As well as running their Aerial Africa workshops, tours and safaris, the couple recently published a book entitled Aerial Art.
Like a giant marine lung, sapphire bronchi branch out through pale low-tide sandbanks in the Walvis Bay Lagoon, Namibia
After flying together for more than 12 years, the Roodes have developed a collaborative practice that produces stunning pictorial results. “My main role is to fly the plane,” Jan explains. “Upfront, we decide where we want to go and what we want to look for. But what usually happens, as we fly, things just change, because we’ve got a far view and we can see animals or something amazing far in the distance.
“We’re both on the lookout for images as we fly. Jay sits at the back with windows on both sides. When we spot something, I get into the technical side of flying, making sure she gets the right angle and shot, and then she starts ordering me around.”
Seeing the beauty of the Earth from up above has been life-changing for the couple. “Every time you go up, you can’t help having deeper more spiritual thoughts about size and our importance,” says Jay. “A Nile River system, when you see it from above, is so beautiful and intricate and holds so much life within it – it’s very powerful.
“Amelia Earhart said you haven’t seen a tree until you’ve seen its shadow from above. One day we were photographing Etosha in north Namibia and saw wildebeests walking across the pans, as tiny as ants. It challenges our whole way of looking at the world.”
caption here re wildebeests
The couple are determined to share the experience of seeing the planet differently by offering up seats on their plane.
“Wherever we go to places, we try to take local people up who have never flown and otherwise might never have the chance to go flying,” says Jan. “When you show them the world from above, you can see it makes a big impact on them to see where they live and the context of where they live.
“We’ve also done work with Mike Kendrick at Wild Shots Outreach, taking South African kids who are aspiring photographers up flying. It blows their mind. A lot of those kids now want to be aerial photographers.”
Off the southern tip of Benguerra Island, a shoal of giant stingray glide through the turquoise shallows of the Bazaruto Marine Reserve, Mozambique
All images by Jan and Jay Roode
Learn more about the work of Jan and Jay Roode in the March/April issue of the RPS Journal. Join us to receive our exclusive award-winning magazine and read more inspiring features. Explore full member benefits here