As much as we pride ourselves on our reporting and our prose, we understand the make-or-break power of great visuals—especially photographs. Last year, for the first time, New Jersey Monthly invited our readers to contribute their photographic vision to our ongoing portrait of the state. Partnering with Unique Photo of Fairfield, we launched a contest open to amateurs, students and professionals residing in the state. The challenge: Create a photo, shot in New Jersey, striking enough to command the cover of the December issue.
The response was so strong, we decided to do it again. From April 1-October 1, submissions were accepted in six categories: architecture, lifestyle, nature, Shore, student, and special (digital manipulations and specialties such as night, aerial and abstract work). In concert with Unique, we reviewed this year’s 811 entries—180 more than last year—on the basis of originality, technical excellence, composition, artistic merit and relevance to life in New Jersey. In the initial judging, we chose 117 finalists to submit to our expert panel. Using the same criteria, the panel chose the winner and runner-up in each category. New Jersey Monthly and Unique Photo made the final decision on the cover winner and runner-up. Winners and runners-up won valuable photo equipment and gift cards from Unique Photo.
Overall: 1st Place
“Officers’ Row” by Dennis G. Maida Jr.
Maida, a Naval Reserve officer and Iraq veteran, arrived at Fort Hancock on Sandy Hook Bay in time to tuck himself into this arch and shoot the weathered homes as the sun rose behind him. “The picture made itself,” he says modestly. Maida, 49, says he had difficulty adjusting to civilian life after his tour of duty in Iraq in 2007. A fellow officer turned him on to photography. “It got me grounded and, literally and figuratively, helped me focus,” he says. “One of my goals is to take this passion and share it with other veterans so they do things with the camera rather than hurt themselves.”
“Sailor’s Dismay” by Michael Greco
When this sailboat ran aground off Sea Bright in June and was abandoned by its owner, removing it became a headache for the town but an opportunity for Greco, 43, a software developer who lives in West Allenhurst. Using a tripod and attaching a neutral-density filter to his lens, he was able to leave the shutter open for five minutes. “It was just before dawn, it was dark to the eye, but the camera picks up more than the eye can see,” he says. “The tide was coming in, and the rushing water and the motion of the clouds create a blur—this filmy, creamy look. That’s my style.”
Shore category: 1st Place
“Seaside Heights Boardwalk” by Chad Hoover
“My wife makes fun of me because I’m always walking around looking at the ground,” says Hoover, 47. “I like to get low. I lie in the streets, in gutters, to get reflections.” For this photo, he arose before dawn (as usual on shoot days) and stretched out on the boardwalk on his left side with a wide-angle lens on his camera. “I get odd looks from people as they walk by,” he admits. “More than one person stopped to ask if I was okay.” He was more than okay. The Seaside Ferris wheel is one of his favorite subjects. (“It’s my muse. I probably have over 500 pictures of it.”) Hoover, a former college football and baseball player, says he used to play about 60 rounds of golf a year until his daughter was born five years ago. Now they often go out together. This collector of reflections posts his work on Instagram, “and people say, ‘This has got to be Photoshopped.’ I say, ‘It’s a reflection.’ I love the fact that people think it’s Photoshopped.”
Architecture category: 1st Place
“Ellis Island” by Jeri Kenney
Canon 6D Mark II
“I like decay,” Kenney admits. The retired lab manager got plenty of that when she took the Hard Hat Tour of the ramshackle remains of the Ellis Island Hospital. But her takeaway was deeper. Immigrants who wound up in the hospital often had their American dreams delayed or denied. “It’s sad how many people were turned away because they had some kind of illness,” says the Lakewood resident. Of her winning photograph, she relates, “I walked into this room and said, ‘Wow, look at this!’ When these immigrants walked in here, they got this glimpse of freedom.” But it was, as her picture shows, still tantalizingly out of reach.
Shore category: Runner-Up
“Ocean City Pier” by Robert Loffredo
If the first thing you notice in this photo is the full range of tones—from pure white to pure black and all the grays between—you just might be a classicist like Robert Loffredo. Despite being just 22, Loffredo is an old soul in terms of taste. “Ansel Adams was a huge inspiration for me back in college,” he says of the two years he spent earning a degree in graphic design and photography. Growing up in Brick, where he still resides, he was intrigued by cameras, beginning with his grandparents’ film point-and-shoot. Now shooting digital, he favors landscapes, animals, waterfalls and scenes at the water’s edge. In this early-morning moment, “the shadows really caught me,” he says. “I look for leading lines,” by which he means, “something that drags your eye into the frame, from the foreground to the midground to the background.” Like a good actor, this young photographer knows his lines.
Architecture category: Runner-Up
“A Frozen Officers’ Row” by Eric Thacke
When the polar vortex expanded last winter, pushing frigid air south, Jerseyans who had a choice stayed indoors. Not Eric Thacke. He and his family were warm at home in Tinton Falls in February when they succumbed to what he calls cabin fever. Layered up, they drove to Fort Hancock on Sandy Hook Bay so Thacke could take pictures of the ice-encrusted waterfront as the sun settled on the horizon. “It was about 15 degrees, with the wind howling,” he says. “Everybody else ran back to the car. I said, ‘I’m waiting for the sunset colors.’” Thacke, 51, an HVAC contractor, set up a tripod on a bulkhead. As subjects, he prefers landscapes to people. Why? “Landscapes don’t complain. People do.”
Lifestyle category: 1st Place
“Summer Clambake” by Joseph Zielinski
At an off-season ski-club clambake, Zielinski was out of his element in that he neither belongs to the club nor skis. But his friend, John, a retired state trooper who does ski and is a member, had invited him. And Zielinski, 56, a research pharmacist who lives in Florham Park, is in his element when taking pictures. (He was runner-up in the nature category last year.) One can see why John was given the task of shucking all the clams. As Zielinski notes, “These hands should be carved in granite.” Holding his iPhone 8 above the action, he produced this in-all-ways gripping photograph.
Special category: 1st Place
“Seaside Park Rain” by Jason Rice
Rice and his 13-year-old son, Jackson, had ducked into a boardwalk pizza joint to wait out a rainstorm last summer. Each was packing an iPhone. “The sun came out for 30 seconds, and it created this continuous reflection off the boards,” says Rice, who relishes reflections. “I always keep an eye out for them. Suddenly, I saw these guys walking toward us, all shimmery.” He grabbed the shot before the sun ducked behind clouds. Rice, 50, an Island Heights resident and sales rep for a book wholesaler, entered the picture in the category for special effects and processes. What special effect or process did he employ? “I just turned the picture upside down,” he says.
Lifestyle category: Runner-Up
“Curiosity” by Stacy Hoffman
Nebraska native Hoffman is on her third stint in New Jersey for the medical-device sector of Johnson & Johnson. “I wanted to get back here,” she says, “because the state is so underrated by those who haven’t been here. The reputation doesn’t match the beauty of what you see.” On her regular evening walk around her Flemington neighborhood, she revels in its bucolic charm. Steadying her camera and telephoto lens on a fence post, she photographed these sheep. She credits an off-camera assistant, a deer, with catching the attention of the front sheep. “I had all three looking away, all three looking at me,” she says. “Finally I got the exact configuration I wanted.”
Special category: Runner-Up
“Early Ventnor Morning” by Cole Ditzel
DJI Spark Drone
“The surfers are out, the swimmers are out, the people are lounging with their umbrellas open,” says Ditzel of his eye-in-the-sky photo. “It really represents what a day at the beach in New Jersey is all about, at least for me.” The picture is also a sly self-portrait. Ditzel, 24, his girlfriend, Becca Boileau, and a college friend of Ditzel’s are standing together on the wide part of the pier. His four-propeller drone is 600 feet in the air, and he is commanding it through an app on his phone. The Middletown native recently moved to Florida, where he works in market research and quality assurance for Disney. It’s beach season all year down there. Even so, he says, “I miss New Jersey a lot.”
Nature category: 1st Place
“Residential Deer” by Jason Whitaker
With Cervidae running amok in suburban Jersey yards, this caught-in-the act photo might be considered a mug shot. But Whitaker, 41, a professional photographer who lives in Wayne, used the compressing effect of a long telephoto lens to ennoble this doe, who led her fawns through his backyard. The picture was taken in broad daylight, with sun cutting across the deer’s face. Converting the image from color to black-and-white and pushing the shadows to black heightened the sense of confrontation—as well as the simultaneously comic sense of, You talkin’ to me?
Student category: 1st Place
“Dunes” by Justin Walker
Canon EOS Rebel T5
At age 13, Walker is two for two. Last year, at 12, he won the student category with a resplendent color photo of monarch butterflies roosting on a stand of goldenrod as the setting sun spread honey across the horizon. He repeats the feat with this view of wild grasses on the shore of Cape May Point. “I just liked how the dunes were perfect, with no footsteps whatsoever, and all the grasses were waving in the wind with the beautiful sky behind,” he explains. The seventh-grader, who is usually accompanied by his mom, shoots with an entry-level digital SLR, “and I don’t do much [processing] after the fact.” Photography is not his only passion. “I also like soccer, surfing, skimboarding and drawing,” he says. Can he draw well enough to make stuff look real? “I can,” he replies, as if it is the most natural thing in the world.
Nature category: Runner-Up
“Centennial Lake” by Jeremy Knoll
On his way to work early each morning, Knoll, 47, an English teacher at Lenape High School in Medford, passes Centennial Lake, around the corner from his house in town, where he lives with his wife, two sons, a dog and a cat. “Hundreds of times,” he says, he has stopped to photograph the lake. On this particular morning, he hit the jackpot. “There happened to be two guys in a canoe. This was the first time I’d ever seen people fishing on the lake that early.” He grabbed his iPhone and took the photo. “There was a lot of mist between them and me, and that lent a softness to the picture,” he says. “All I did in processing was boost the color saturation a tiny bit.”
Student category: Runner-Up
“The Raptor Trust” by Annabel Weiman
Canon EOS Rebel T7
Weiman, a rising sophomore at Indian Hills High School in Oakland, brought her digital SLR and zoom lens to a Girls Who Click program at the Raptor Trust in Millington, Morris County, in August. (GWC is a national nonprofit that encourages girls to learn about nature through photography.) When the handlers brought out a rescue bird—a kestrel, a small falcon about the size of a blue jay—Weiman, 15, was captivated. “I really liked the colors and the spots and the way the sun reflected off it,” she says. Pushing the zoom to max, she separated her subject from the background just as it cocked its head and looked her in the eye.
2019 COVER SEARCH JUDGING PANEL
Carlos Alvarado is a Paterson-based professional photographer who specializes in dramatic adult and child portraiture and special-event photography. When shooting weddings, he endeavors to tell stories that capture these important moments—or chapters—in his subjects’ lives.
Ellen Denuto has been capturing memorable images for more than 20 years. Her award-winning fine-art and portrait photographs have been included in museums, exhibitions and publications nationwide. Based in Denville, she teaches classes, leads workshops and serves as president of the New Jersey chapter of the American Society of Media Photographers.
Frank Veronsky is a commercial and editorial photographer who specializes in people, portraits and architectural design. He has photographed an array of personalities, executives and celebrities, as well as outstanding unknowns. Recent shoots include the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center for the September 2019 issue of New Jersey Monthly. He is based in Belle Meade.
James Worrell has won numerous awards for his photography and is widely published in New Jersey Monthly and other media. A graduate of the University of Iowa School of Art and Art History, he started his career in Los Angeles, later opening his first studio in Manhattan. He lives in Maplewood and teaches photography at Newark Academy in Livingston.
Morgan Ione Yaeger is a commercial and editorial photographer specializing in travel, food, lifestyle and interior images. She loves that her job is different every day, allows her to explore the world, introduces her to unique cuisines, and puts her in the company of interesting people with fantastic stories.