Jonah Kessel

Photo by Jan Niklas Stollberg.Jonah Kessel, son of Herb and Barbara Kessel, was raised in Shelburne with his two brothers Andrew and Adam. From the start, Kessel created his own path: “I didn’t take a traditional route through university,” he states. Kessel studied all over, beginning at Tulane University, Massey University in New Zealand, James Cook University in Australia, and finally graduated from Saint Michael’s College with a Journalism and Mass Communications degree in 2005.
Kessel immediately began his career in Burlington as a freelance photographer for the Burlington Free Press and later held positions with the Tahoe Daily Tribune in California. In 2009, Kessel worked as the photography and design consultant in Oran, Algeria.
His big break came that same year when Kessel was recruited by the Chinese government to redesign “China Daily,” the national English language newspaper of the People’s Republic of China. This was not Kessel’s first try at newspaper redesign but the experience made a great impression on him.
In June of 2011, Kessel began working as a video journalist for the “New York Times.” Presently, the Times sponsors his visa and he covers China for the video department, sometimes crossing into photography. “I’ve covered a large variety of stories from political uprisings and riots in South China to the impact of mining on rural communities in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. Now, I’m somewhere between an employee and a freelancer and it’s relatively optimal because it allows me to work for other people too,” Kessel explains.
In recent years, his photographic work has turned more towards short form documentary film making. He does video production for environmental and human rights organizations. “I make small documentaries about their work or give them photos,” Kessel offers. He’s also part of the National Press Photographer’s Association and the Foreign Correspondence Club of China (NPPA).
When he’s not working for the Times or other news outlets, Kessel makes videos for multinationals and brands trying to get content into and out of China. In the past two years, he has made videos for a variety of commercial enterprises and developmental organizations including Coca Cola, Shangri-La Hotels, KPMG, Oglivy, Durex, BP, The Jane Goodall Institute, The World Economic Forum, and Save the Children.
Kessel’s freelance work has appeared internationally, including publications like The Wall Street Journal, CNN, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, The Guardian, Woman’s Wear Daily, Global Post, and the Los Angeles Times.
As for his interests, hobbies, and career, they comingle. “My career has been based upon my desire to see new places, to meet interesting people, and to photograph them,” Kessel remarks. “My life and work are directly intertwined and they never really stray too far away from each other.” Travel is certainly a key theme. Besides spending time in nearly all 50 states, he has explored all over the world in his 32 years. Last year, Kessel spent more of his time on planes and in hotels than he did at his home in Beijing.
Now, it seems that Kessel won’t be returning to the states anytime soon. “Working for the Chinese State Media gave me a landing ground in China. My contract with the government lasted for one and half years but following that, I wasn’t really ready to go. I intended to come for one year, but it’s now four years later and I haven’t left yet. While the economy in the United States has been suffering, just the opposite is happening in China. I’ve had amazing opportunities to grow professionally and personally,” he said.
Favorite book: “The Man Who Planted Trees”
Favorite movie: “Baraka”
Favorite food: “It’s a tie between Maine lobster and raw oysters.”
Favorite Shelburne haunt: Shelburne Beach
Bucket list: “To see enough places that I don’t feel like seeing more.’

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