For many photographers, landing a job with National Geographic would be the pinnacle of their career — the stuff dreams are made of. For the last ten years, Fresno State Media, Communications and Journalism Professor Jes Therkelsen has spent his summers teaching photography for National Geographic on student expeditions and workshops around the globe.

Therkelsen says the expeditions typically focus on exploration and storytelling — the topics change according to the destination. For example, last summer he led a photography expedition in Bhutan.

“Bhutan was one of the last Himalayan Buddhist kingdoms to open its doors to visitors, so our trip focused on such things like sustainable eco-tourism, Buddhism, gross national happiness, democracy, and western media’s influence,” said Therkelsen. “I often teach photographic storytelling in relation to learning about these different issues within these destinations.”

Jes Therkelsen looks down a crevasse in Iceland.
Jes Therkelsen looks down a crevasse in Iceland.

While expeditions focus on a wide range of topics, workshops concentrate on photography curriculum. The workshops are held in major cities around the work and culminate in a gallery show.

“This summer, in addition to the Bhutan expedition, I led a photo workshop in Tokyo, Japan,” said Therkelsen. “I’ve taught such photo workshops in London, Paris, and Barcelona as well.”

When the summer is over, Therkelsen uses his experiences to motivate his students in the art of storytelling.

“These experiences influence my work at Fresno State quite a bit. First, I tell my students that being a strong storyteller will take them to different places — and they see that I’m living that each summer.”

He also uses the connections he has made around the world to organize project trips for his Fresno State students.

“I’ve been able to take my photography and film students to Fiji [twice], Ghana, and Tanzania to work on projects. I’ll be heading to South Africa and Ireland soon, and I hope to bring more students with me to work on projects while there.”

Jes Therkelsen in India.
Jes Therkelsen in India.

When asked about his favorite experiences, it’s no surprise that Therkelsen had a lot to say.

“I’ve had a lot of really incredible experiences over the years. I’ve been fortunate enough to snorkel with sharks and hike on active volcanoes in the Galapagos Islands, live on a boat in the Great Barrier Reef, climb on glaciers in Iceland, see the sun rise over the Taj Mahal, witness Black Rhinos in Etosha National Park in Namibia, make the pilgrimage up the Tiger’s Nest in Bhutan, among many other fantastic memories.”