Academy Student Starts Photography and Filmmaking Company
Jonathen E. Davis began his seven-year stint in the Navy as a mass communication specialist. The job leveraged the photography he’d learned in high school and taught him a new skill, videography. Gradually, he built a strong portfolio that helped him land a position with a Combat Camera unit, an elite group of military journalists. As a combat cameraman, Davis accompanied Army Rangers, Navy SEALs and other special forces to document a variety of military operations around the world. He covered disasters such as the Haiti earthquake and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, both of which occurred in 2010.
Davis was the first photographer to find oil on land after the BP disaster, a discovery that became a big national news story. His photos of the spill appeared in major publications such as The New York Times and National Geographic. Davis’ videos and pictures were also featured on Fox News and NBC.
After leaving the Navy, he missed the fast pace and camaraderie of being a combat cameraman.
“The first few months of adjusting to civilian life were difficult,” said Davis, who has a degree in visual journalism from Brooks Institute and is earning an M.A. at Academy of Art University’s School of Motion Pictures and Television. “I had to totally change my mindset from go, go, go to figuring out what I was going to do next. I felt like I’d lost my sense of purpose.”
One day, his girlfriend at the time—now his wife—showed him a TED Talk video about Team Rubicon. The organization deploys emergency response teams comprised of veterans to help victims of disasters.
“Team Rubicon gives veterans the camaraderie they’d once had but lost since leaving the military,” said Davis. “It was also a way to do something with my skillset and help those in need of disaster relief.”
He joined the organization and was soon deployed to Moore, Okla., after a devastating tornado ripped through the area in 2013. That experience showed him what Team Rubicon could accomplish and provided him with a memorable encounter with an elderly veteran who lost everything in the tornado.
“We were that comfort he needed,” Davis explained. “He opened up to us and told us how great it was to talk to military people. One day, we bought him a U.S. flag and handed it to him, military ceremony style. He wept and said he’d never forget it.”
Davis’s latest mission to Nepal, after the catastrophic earthquake in April, was equally powerful. He was part of a team sent to Sermathang, a remote farming village located high in the mountains. With monsoon season on the way, the villagers had to farm by day to ensure they’d have enough food when the storms arrived and rebuild at night.
“We helped alleviate some of that pressure,” said Davis. ”I’ve never met a group of people who worked so hard and had such a strong community.”
His work in Nepal generated plenty of exposure for Image Hero, the photography and filmmaking business he recently started in Southern California. “Being there showed that I can step out of my comfort zone and capture moments in times of hardship where many things are happening all at once,” Davis stated.
His clients include nonprofits and well-known corporations such as Sport Chalet. He provides a wide range of services including outdoor adventure and underwater photography, product photography and international trainings for photographers, especially those going into combat. And he’s been meeting with several other potential clients about exciting new projects.
Davis is also busy honing his documentary film editing skills through his courses at the Academy. He said he’s enjoying learning about design, pacing, and the look and feel of a film from people who make fiction-based movies—and wants to apply that knowledge to his documentaries.
Davis also appreciated how supportive his instructors were last semester when he was sent to Nepal. They understood that he was helping people in need and also recognized that the kind of work he was doing was invaluable to his career. “It’s been really great to have the school support me,” he said. ”I’m fortunate that I’ve been put on a path that’s led me to doing something I love.”