Gallery: Jeanne O'Grady [12 Images] Click any image to expand.
by Anne Batty
Setting your own schedule, traveling and photographing the world, and getting paid while doing it, is what most people would call having a dream job. And San Clemente Kiwanian Jeanne O’Grady is one of those fortunate people doing just that.
“My dad was a lawyer and somewhat a science nerd, and there was always a collection of National Geographic magazines available in our home,” she commented. “I spent hours looking at all the exotic pictures and imagining what it would be like to visit those places in person.”
With science in her DNA, and an interest in Star Trek, O’Grady spent her high school years aspiring to be an astronaut. But eventually realizing she was claustrophobic decided she needed to find another career path.
Upon entering university she began exploring recession-proof options, narrowing her choices to the fields of food, cosmetics or medicine, and finally settling upon bio-chemistry. One of her first jobs in this field was with Lipton Tea as a food taster. While employed there she was instrumental in developing their herbal tea line, and says she obtained many of the more unusual herbs used (the legal kind) from an acquaintance who resided in Greenwich Village.
Although a native New Yorker, a job promotion eventually brought Jeanne to the west coast. While living and working in the bay area she often visited friends in SoCal, particularly in the Carlsbad and San Clemente areas. She knew when she finally settled down it would be in one of those places or the other, and of course she chose San Clemente.
It would be a job interview on the campus of San Diego State University that would eventually lead her into the field of science and pave the way to traveling and picture-taking.
“I had done a little leisure traveling on my own,” she revealed. “But it was the opportunity to apply with a medical instrumentation company that was the catalyst to what I am doing today.”
In 2005 she was hired by a company headquartered in Japan. The job required traveling there, and with the privilege of setting her own schedule she was able to branch out and see other parts of Asia as well. Then, with the eventual promotion to Global Sales Manager, she had opportunity to expand her travels to all parts of the world.
Just like hammer and nails or tea and crumpets, travel and photography go together, and before long - coupling her interest in the exotic photos in National Geographic with the sites seen on her travels – O’Grady began shooting pictures all along the way.
“One summer while in college I took an elective photography class. I even had to borrow a camera from my professor,” she laughed. “In that class I discovered there was lots to know about the science of photography, composition, lighting and much more. As I got more serious about taking pictures, I took more classes, one of them in town with Frank Ritenour through the San Clemente Parks and Recreation program.”
It was an African safari, coupled with the advice of a photographer friend that prompted her to invest in a Canon camera with interchangeable lenses. She was fast discovering that her interest in quality picture taking was becoming a very expensive hobby.
As a longtime member of Kiwanis (a service organization founded in 1915 for the promulgation of higher ideals in business, industrial and professional life) it didn’t take long for Jeanne to become interested in the World Heritage sites she was discovering in her world travels. These are sites maintained by UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) and are places of importance to the cultural or natural heritage of various countries around the world. They are areas that may be natural or manmade and they must meet the following criteria to be declared:
1) represent a masterpiece of human creative genius. 2) exhibit an important interchange of human values 3) bear a unique or exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or civilization, living, or one that has disappeared 4) be an outstanding example of a type of building, architecture or landscape illustrating a stage in human history 5) be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement land or sea use 6) be directly or tangibly associated with events, traditions, ideas, beliefs, artistic and literary works of outstanding significance.
“These places were so unique and meaningful, that I was drawn to them,” she stated passionately. “Some were so difficult to find and to access, that I needed a guide and lots of gumption just to find them and get there. But seeing them and discovering the things they revealed about the various cultures was fascinating and well worth any difficulty I might have had in accessing them.”
According to O’Grady there are 981 of these sites, and she has seen 136 and taken pictures of 103 so far. Her entire collection of photographs numbers about 70,000 and she has been happy to have cruise ship directors and teachers put them to good use in their work
As what she terms a privileged American traveler, she is saddened by the poor conditions she has observed in many places around the globe. She is especially moved by the plight of women, the poor living conditions, the lack of opportunity for education, and the necessity of hard physical labor to support families while men are often unable to do little to help. She also feels that the banning of plastic bags is very important to world improvement, and she sees a great need for fresh water and the opportunity for people to have gardens. Her mantra is “educate the women and you will educate the children,” insuring a better life for future generations.
After visiting over 59 countries, Jeanne has little patience with people who criticize the United States. “We live in the best country in the world,” she says, blue-grey eyes flashing fire. “I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly, and everywhere I go the people say they love America and are so appreciative of the generosity of the American people. They know they are better off because of what our country has done for them.”
One of the things she has discovered through this hobby is how photos can impact relationships. It seems that in the posting of her pictures on facebook she has reconnected with some of her high school girlfriends, and for her that has been a very rewarding experience.
When asked if she has any plans for her collection of pictures, O’Grady says she has thought about trying to blend her wanderlust and photos into something that will benefit humanity. Picture books with lesson plans for classroom education, or slide show presentations for cruise ship seminars, or maybe a travel book showing routes to heritage sites including lodging … all these are ideas that have crossed her mind. But at this point there’s nothing tangible.
For now - until retirement and that time when photography authors a new chapter in the life of Jeanne O’Grady - she says things will go forward with more of the same … work, travel, picture-taking and a continually active participation in the San Clemente chapter of Kiwanis International.