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Inspirational message from National Geographic photographer, Dewitt Jones makes lasting impact

Avery Jones | The Feather Online

Dewitt Jones spent 20 years with National Geographic, traveling the world.

“Celebrate what’s right in the world. Put yourself in the place of most potential. Transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.” — Dewitt Jones

These words forever altered the professional perspective of Feather adviser, Kori Friesen, as a new teacher in 2002.

Through a network of connections, Feather students interviewed Dewitt Jones via Skype from his Hawaiian home, April 4. Jones, who’s words made an impact on Friesen shared many personal stories from his time at ‘The Graphic’ (National Geographic), and tells of his first interest in film and photography.

Traveling around the world, Dewitt Jones experienced life differently from behind a camera lens. Throughout 20 years as a freelance photojournalist with National Geographic, Jones earned the recognition of a world-class photojournalist unaware these experiences would build a platform as a global inspirational speaker.

While in his senior year at Dartmouth with an acceptance to Harvard business grad school secured, Jones and two friends generated the idea of kayaking 1,100 miles up the coast of Japan and pitched the idea as an article for The Graphic. This project became his film debut and motivated his new career path switching to film making at UCLA Film school.

“We finally did it,” Jones said. “I convinced the Geographic to let me go. I managed to put the movie together and it was shown on television; syndicated in Europe, and I was a filmmaker. That was the first step that got me into The Geographic.”

Entering as a budding film maker with  National Geographic, Jones went on to have two movies nominated for an Academy Award, including Academy Award for Best Short Film (Live Action), for his film ‘Climb’ in 1975, and Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject for ‘John Muir’s High Sierra’. It was through his experience shooting John Muir in Yosemite Valley that sparked his intrigue for a still photograph. 

“While standing in the parking lot at Yosemite, I met a journalist who was writing a article on John Muir for The Geographic,” Jones said. “I called and suggested I take the photos for the article and they gave me the assignment. I was a ‘dummy’ with still cameras but I learned very, very quickly. I had never had a photograph published anywhere–that’s nuts! Not a career path I would recommend–standing in parking lots waiting for the National geographic to give you an assignment.”

Dewitt Jones

Jones says agave grows even more sensuous beneath a starlit sky.

Jones went on to further his professional photojournalist career for National Geographic, quickly learning that freelance was a better fit then moving to Washington, DC, full-time.

“I spent 100 percent of my time with the Geographic,” Jones said. “If I look at my career, it was 25% hard work, 25% talent, 25% making some really good decisions with my gut and 25% dumb luck. I had three ways I could get an assignment. I could propose something, I could politically try to put myself into position for an article I knew that was coming up or I could beg.”

No matter what job National Geographic assigned to Jones, he always started by asking, “What’s the story?” in order to capture the perfect picture. There were many valuable lessons he learned along the way and openly shared those with Feather students. 

– Most people can take photos with their phones, but to be a photojournalists you have to be able to tell a story.

– To build your brand it can’t just be about following trends, over the long haul you need to perfect your photographic style from within.

When it comes to finding inspiration Jones uses his phone as he moves throughout the day to capture visual prayers by snapping pictures  meaningful to him. “Beauty is God’s way of remaining obvious,” Jones said.

Most recently Jones has taken on the TEDx stage to encourage viewers to, “Celebrate what’s right in the world.” After freelancing he moved into a marketing and advertising role for corporations. It was at this point in his career  he saw a need to bring his creative entrepreneurship to the business world. His vision and creative expression found a home on stages across the country as a platform speaker.

Beauty is God’s way of remaining obvious — Dewitt Jones, National Geographic photographer

While watching a recording of Jones called  “Clear Vision” during a California BTSA training session, Friesen immediately connected to his words. This inspiration planted a seed for an interest in photography and helped change the way she viewed her role as a brand new teacher.

“His (Jones’) message was about perspective and putting yourself in the place of most potential,” Friesen said. “Applying that to my classroom and changing the perspective that every student should fit in one box with the same expectations. I began to look not only at my classroom with varying perspectives but life. I saw the way he captured life behind a camera and understood that the planned outcome/shot is typically not as extraordinary as the unexpected ones. You can aim for a goal but don’t miss the journey.”

Paige Provost | The Feather Online

Feather staff sit in while listening to Jones speak about his photography background via skype.

Clear Vision and his TEDx talk are two resources used to inspire Feather photojournalist each year. Hearing directly from Jones was a highlight of many interviews done this year on the team. Friesen uses the opportunity as a motivator for her team.

“His professional journey opens up opportunities to connect and dream outside of FCS,” Friesen said. “Exposure can create intrigue; intrigue creates dreams and I want to help facilitate that. Learning about the reality of working for a publication like National Geographic helps paint a clearer picture of one side of photojournalism. There are many things you can do with photographic skills. This is just one avenue.”

In the following tweet, adviser Kori Friesen and students interview Jones via Skype.

Video journalist Wesley Hinton, ‘20, met Jones via Skype for the first time, while listening to his film and photography background. 

It was really awesome getting to listen to a photographer with such a unique background,” Hinton said. “He also had so many years of experience from a different era of photo and video that was interesting to learn about. What stood out to me the most was when Jones explained that what your filming is much more important than what gear you use to film it.”

Hinton is a first-year video journalist, learning the ropes of what it takes to be a video journalist for The Feather.

“Although good gear can be helpful, the main goal of being a video journalist is to tell a good story,” Hinton said. “I can apply this by working hard to tell a good story with any video I created, regardless of what the topic is. Although it’s sometimes difficult to pour yourself into a video about a less interesting subject, I can challenge myself to always tell a good story.”

His inspirational messages garnered titles as a renowned lecturer, inspirational speaker, and a world-class photojournalist. He presented as a Keynote Speaker with features such as, ‘Extraordinary Visions‘, ‘Dare to Dance‘, and ‘Clear Vision‘.

Currently, Jones has nine books published including, ‘California’, ‘Clear Vision’ and ‘Everyday Creativity’ and more. His words inspire thousands as he travels, speaking to many as a renowned lecturer and keynote speaker. 

Jones’ Ted Talk called ‘Celebrate What’s Right with the World’, conveys a message about finding the good instead of focusing on the bad. Jones says, “Beauty is God’s way of remaining obvious,” and encourages people to search for the best perspective.

Over a million views for the September 2017  Dewitt Jones Ted Talk, ‘Celebrate What’s Right in the World’. (video below) 

To learn more about Dewitt Jones, visit his website or his Instagram feed: @dewittjones.

For more articles, read ‘Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard speaks at SJV Town Hall’ and ‘Campus music department earns top awards in WorldStrides Heritage Festival’.

Avery Jones can be reached via Twitter, email and Instagram.

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