For many people, traveling across the country to capture extraordinary landscapes and landmarks of civic importance on film sounds like a dream job.
For Milwaukee-native Jarob J. Ortiz, it's a reality.
Ortiz earned a sought-after position at the National Park Service to help document parks and historic sites across the United States.
“I never expected to get this job,” Ortiz told Travel + Leisure. But when he heard an NPR interview with Dr. Richard J. O’Connor, Chief of the Heritage Documentation Program, about their search for the “next Ansel Adams,” he was motivated to submit his resume.
“O’Connor said, ‘but the thing we really like are old buildings,’” Ortiz recalled, “and when I heard that I [thought], ‘This is perfect.’”
Although the gig works with the National Park Service, it’s not about shooting romantic images of Yosemite and Acadia all day long. The primary job of the photographer is to take large-format photos of historic American buildings and landscapes—especially those that are critically endangered.
Ortiz’s passion has been, from the start, shooting architecture and important buildings. He has been documenting the decaying buildings in post-industrial Gary, Indiana, for years.
It took Ortiz a while to figure out that photography was his calling. He served in the Air Force for six years, based in Alaska “for a good long time,” and pursued various studies at the Milwaukee Area Technical College, including liberal arts, teaching, and journalism. It wasn’t until his friend showed him a color transparency, and his father gave him an Olympus OM2, that Ortiz discovered his passion.
“I’ll never forget that,” Ortiz told T+L, remembering this first time he saw a transparency held up to the light.
Ortiz decided to return to school to study photography, and he actively sought out programs that taught the view camera—the same device Ansel Adams used to capture his iconic black-and-white photographs, as well as the famed photographer’s Zone System technique. That’s how Ortiz found himself back at the Milwaukee Area Technical College.
“Realistically, I wouldn’t have been able to do this without my instructors,” said Ortiz, whose expertise with this specific type of camera, the process of shooting, and meticulous archiving helped him land his new job.
Ortiz expects his first project for the National Parks Service might be taking photographs of Ellis Island for the Historic American Engineering Record.
Travel will be a huge component of Ortiz’s new position: “I’m excited by the possibility that I could go anywhere,” Ortiz said, with fingers crossed that an assignment will eventually send him back to Alaska.
“I don’t care if it’s a historical log cabin or a national park—I would [return] to Alaska at any opportunity,” he said.
Shoots will be prioritized depending on how imperiled a building or area is.
“I’m just excited to do whatever is they want to throw at me,” Ortiz added, “not only the subject matter at hand but the people around the subject, the culture.”
Melanie Lieberman is the Assistant Digital Editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @melanietaryn.