Toy photography is creative outlet for English & Mass Communications major

MSUM English and Mass Communications student Jonathan Ness has been doing what he loves for 17 years – photographing toys in explosive scenes.

At 23, Jonathan is a talented photographer with an Instagram following of more than 4,000. His art depicts combat scenes featuring scuffed-up toys. Growing up, he enjoyed looking at combat photography and that has shaped his photography to this day.


He carefully crafts every photo detail, from the scratches on a helmet to the explosions in the background. He only shoots with vintage lenses, with his current camera having a Vietnam War-era lens. While he's not sure if the camera has ever seen combat, he's confident that it has definitely been on its own adventures from everything he's put it through.

Jonathan is a graduate of Anoka-Ramsey Community College and transferred to MSUM. When considering his next step, he was concerned about how his credits would transfer. With MSUM, his credits easily transferred, and it made the most sense academically. Additionally, he looked forward to living in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

"I love Fargo-Moorhead—the flatlands and the whole area. I find it beautiful in a spiritual way. It’s like the Elysium scenes from Gladiator with all the endless fields," he said.

Living in Nelson, MSUM's tallest building, he admires the beauty of the Fargo-Moorhead skyline every day. He often spends nights painting or reading with his friends in his residence hall, and he wouldn't have it any other way.

Being a transfer student had its difficulties, but through his journalism courses and CRU (an on-campus Christian organization), he was able to find a community at MSUM. He also enjoyed the warm welcome he received from the faculty and staff on campus.

His advisor, broadcast journalism Professor Aaron Quanbeck, welcomed him to the School of Communication & Journalism. Jonathan took his class on a whim and when Aaron found out about his photography, he paraded Jonathan around the department. Alumna and WDAY TV news anchor Kerstin Kealy, who also runs MSUM's Campus News writing program, helped get him featured on WDAY for a story on his toy photography. For him, these mentors really made him feel like he belonged at MSUM and confirmed he was in the right place.


Along with his toy photography hobby, Jonathan is also involved in Campus News, the Advocate and CRU. He says these experiences have helped him improve his skills and have opened doors to new opportunities.  

"I think I've become a better communicator, better photographer and better human being. I've met so many people and it’s just been amazing. I'm grateful."

While Jonathan knows his future includes photography and writing, he's still figuring out what's next after college. Since coming to MSUM, he's switched his major twice before landing on English and Mass Communications. His journey has its ongoing challenges, but his advice to other students finding their way is to branch out even if it causes them discomfort.

"Don't be afraid of what can happen when you put yourself out there. The worst that can happen is never that bad. If you are brave, you can do any class no matter how tough," Jonathan said, "With college, there are so many resources here to help you succeed. You don’t have to do it on your own."

If you're interested in seeing more of his toy photography, follow him on Instagram at @the_amazing_jman.

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