Her photography focuses on uncovering the layers of untold stories within surf, skate, and mountain communities around the world.
PHOTOS Jo Savage
Jo Savage is an adventure lifestyle photographer and journalist. Her photography focuses on uncovering the layers of untold stories within surf, skate, and mountain communities around the world. She enjoys conveying the intimate relationship between the outdoor enthusiast and nature. Maybe if we see ourselves in the environment, then we will care to protect it? To inspire her viewers to explore the outdoors, she aims to capture the full story of an adventure, including all the in-between moments that make the summit so meaningful.
Based in Southern California and Utah, Jo advocates for the environment, sustainability, and inclusivity in sports and outdoor industries.
What ignited your interest in photography?
I’ve been compelled to take photos since around age 10 when I acquired a cheap film disposable. Since then, I can’t remember being without a deep desire to have a camera accessible at all times. I didn’t do much with any of my photos until the last three years when I began pursuing a photography career. I find that photography is something so uniquely mine. The feeling I get by seeing something and capturing it is an inexplicable, deep fulfillment. Sharing it with others is a cherry on top.
Growing up, I devoured art books. Mostly collections of surrealist art: artists like Dali and Octavio Ocampo. Throughout the years I tried drawing, painting, sculpting, and sewing. My hands never possessed the skill to create the way my brain desired. I believe photography became my creative expression because I merely capture what’s already in existence. That, I can do.
What do you seek to capture in the athletes and the performances you cover?
I aspire to capture the most truthful stories behind the people passionately pursuing their favourite activities outdoors. Not just the “summit-moment,” but the in-betweens. So many images of outdoor sport focus on the perfect moment of the trick, the reach, the peak. But rock climbing requires a remarkable amount of time spent training, preparing, and journeying to the locations. Often these efforts surpass the spectacular pinnacle moments in dedication and difficulty, and are never seen. I think these images are relatable to my audience, making the activity more attainable and hopefully inspiring them to get out and do it themselves.
I want convey the athlete’s passion, skill, grace, grit, and drive as well as their connection to the environment.
You’ve photographed events around the world. What place or community sticks with you?
I flew to Houston, Texas six days after Hurricane Harvey devastated the city and surrounding areas. Originally from Texas, I felt I needed to go back to document the disaster. My goals were to raise awareness and funding with the photographs, and get my hands dirty aiding in relief efforts.
I worked with several companies to receive and organize shipments of much-needed donation items at a church in the small town of Groves, Texas. I accepted a shipment of 200 DMOS shovels to assist in the demolition process of the homes. A group of us distributed them through the neighbourhoods. We also went as a team to help knock out wet, moldy walls and muck out mud from the interior flooring.
In exchange, I sent the companies images of their donations helping the community. This helped spread awareness in the U.S. of the scale of the destruction.
Many people lost their homes and businesses. Their resiliency, hope, kindness, gratitude, and strong sense of community in the midst of an awful disaster still sticks with me today.
Tell us more about your Skate series. What’s your biggest take-away from that project?
I personally enjoy skating, perhaps above all my other interests. There’s a freedom of being, expression, and creativity when I’m riding a board. I primarily focus on shooting women skating because the skate imagery I’ve seen throughout my life tends to be male dominated. My girlfriends and I make skating an integral part of our lives and I want to showcase that passion, as well as the femininity and style women bring to skate culture. I hope my imagery can inspire and empower women and girls to feel more comfortable getting on a board: the feeling that they also have a community. My Skate series is born of these things.
My biggest takeaway is the female community I’ve built, connecting with women around the world. Women supporting women is powerful, refreshing, and invigorating.
How does your own personal practice of surfing, climbing, and skating influence your photography?
When I’m shooting action, understanding the proper timing of a trick or body position can make or break the photo. Engaging in the sports lends me a more intimate knowledge of what moments to capture. I also credit the athletes I work with, who help educate me.
Being a part of the surf, skate, and climbing communities also allows me to have a deeper insight into what moments throughout the story are authentic and will resonate with those worlds.
The locations I choose are heavily influenced by the pace and style of the sports that I prefer. For example, I gravitate toward longboarding (over performance surfing) because it’s a laid-back, slow, graceful dance with a stylish, lighthearted community that better suits my personality and surf capabilities.
If you had to choose between the mountain and the ocean, which would you pick?
This question stumps me every time. Must I choose? I recently moved back to California after missing the ocean for three years. I travel often to Utah because I miss the mountains. I dream of living in a place like France where the mountains are only two hours from the coast and I could easily enjoy both regularly. But I must say, I’ve been extremely happy since moving back to the ocean.
What social initiatives are you involved with?
I consistently use photography as a venue to support various social and environmental initiatives. I donate my images to the organizations so they can use them to fundraise , and to advertise their programs by showing people the lives they are touching or environments they are trying to protect.
More recently, I’ve been documenting the EMBARK Outdoor Program, which introduces wilderness skills, rock climbing, and snow sports to young women in Utah County’s ever-growing refugee community. EMBARK is founded on the belief that engagement with the outdoors bridges cultural gaps and builds confidence in young women to see themselves as athletes and leaders in their communities.
In February I joined an all-female team, including women from the GRLSwirl skate community, to visit refugee camps in Tijuana. We distributed donated items to three locations, as well as 100 skateboards. The GRLSwirl women taught the refugee children the basics of skateboarding for several hours and left the boards for them to keep. Giving the children individual, positive attention and skateboards, allowed them a brief window to just be kids again. I acted as a journalist on this assignment, which was called GrlSwirl: Operation Skate Tijuana
Other groups I’m involved with include Utah Open Lands, Salt Lake Climber’s Association, Women’s Climbing Festival, Central Wasatch Commission, and Healing Courageously.
Name 3 Instagram accounts that inspire you?
@Desillusion: A curated account by a fabulous French photographer, Sebastian Zanella. Desillusion feels surreal, transcendent, and melancholy. It’s refreshing to see the mix of analog photography and other mediums that artistically feel more authentic me, than the thousands of digital images infiltrating Instagram today. This community is heavily influenced by surf, skate, vintage fashion, and travel influences.
@Marinalons: A spanish woman who spends much time in surf communities all over the world, including Biarritz, France. She’s in front of the camera in self portraits and behind the lens as photographer and creative director. When it comes to femininity and creativity in surf and travel, she exudes elements of high fashion and wanderlust with a powerful, fierce edge.
@MarcosGuinoza: A Brazilian artist showcases his digital collage and graphic design art. It’s surreal, often colourful, playful, poignant, and thought provoking. His collages incorporate photography and nature influences.