by Hilary Howard
You may not know her name, but you know her work. Even if you haven’t played Pebble Beach or Cypress Point, you can visualize the holes because of the dramatic aerial views seen through the lens of famed photographer Joann Dost.
The 54-year-old travels the world to bring the best golf courses to life. By foot and hanging out of the airplanes and helicopters alike, Dost’s work has been featured in magazines, books and galleries worldwide. Best known for her work as the official photographer of the Pebble Beach Co. golf courses, the genial photographer rose to greatness after relocating from the east coast to the central cost of California.
Athletic accomplishment was commonplace in the Dost household in Vienna, Virgina; father was an Olympic speed skater and brother played professional baseball for the New York Mets. Dost upheld the family expectations through golf by winning the Maryland Junior Girls’ Championship as a 15-year-old. Less than 10 years later she reached the pinnacle of golf by placing third in the LPGA Qualifying School. During five years on the LPGA Tour she enjoyed several top-ten finishes.
It was during that time she made the Monterey Peninsula home. Her interest in photography heightened when she competed in Australia and toyed with a 35 mm camera. She brought that interest back to the California coast and signed up for workshops and attended gallery walks in Carmel, thus allowing her to rub elbows with some of the biggest names in photography.
It was in the living room of the most famous photographer of all time, Ansel Adams, where Dost got her professional break. Clint Eastwood was in charge of finding a photographer for the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links and had asked Adams to take the job. The landscape photographer did not shoot golf courses so he declined the offer, but after two hours of looking through Dost’s portfolio in his home near Point Lobos State Reserve he told Dost she should be Eastwood’s hire.
“I can distinctly remember the big open view of the water from his living room,” Dost said. “He was going through my work – and it was like sitting with Ben Hogan. He was telling stories and I was in awe. Those two hours were one of the biggest points in my whole career.”
The next day Adams called Eastwood and the job was secured. Dost’s success with the ’82 U.S. Open, with all of Pebble Beach watching, laid the groundwork for a career as one of the most accomplished golf course photographers in the world.
However, while Adams played a defining role in her career, Dost is primarily self-taught. “I read every book I can,” said Dost. “I didn’t have time to go to school. I had to make a living after I quit playing golf and I went to what I knew best.”
From coordinating with superintendents to watching the weather (“My friends joke my favorite channel is the weather channel”) and instructing her pilots, the search for sharpening the trade has been a balancing act.
“I have to predict and project ahead of schedule. Superintendents might have put down fertilizer in advance of me coming and it burned out the fairways so now they don’t want me there,” explained Dost. “If you are trying to get a ‘hero’ shot there is really only an hour in the morning and an hour at night if you are fortunate.”
The small window of opportunity for the perfect picture requires patience above all else. Despite the unpredictability of the weather, Dost has only rescheduled several times in her 25-year career. “From crisis comes opportunity,” she said. “I always look at the leading edges and tail end of storm systems. It cleans the air and you can get some dramatic skies.”
The skies have become a comfortable place for the artist. More in demand than ever before, Dost predicts she will be on the road eight of the next 12 months because of an intensive book project added to her regular commitments. Commitments that don’t always stay on schedule: “At Royal County Down in Ireland I sat at the project for three days. Basically all day long to get an hour’s worth of shooting. Most people would just pack it up and say forget it.”
Joann Dost is not your average person. She regularly hangs out of helicopters with the doors off and relies on a life preserver, a competent pilot and gaffing tape to keep her secure. Not one to rest on laurels, each day and every shoot brings a new opportunity for greatness: “Every time I go out there it is more inspiring.”