2022 Contributing Photographers Honored

Matthew Moses

The 3rd Annual Celebration of Photographers was held at the Great Lakes Aquarium.

Photos By Matthew Moses

In a humid, dimly-lit setting, amongst ducks, fish, snakes, and many other species of cool critters who thrive in these conditions, Destination Duluth honored and recognized its beloved content creators with its 3rd annual Celebration of Photographers. The event took place Monday, January 16th, 2023, at Duluth’s Great Lakes Aquarium.

Great Lakes Aquarium St Louis River room.

The program was designed to honor and award 80 of the 300 featured photographers in 2022 who achieved more than 100,000 views of their images.

Photographers with 100k to 1 million received an award certificate folder that included a Duluth/Lake Superior sticker created by SJ Nielsen.

Lake Superior/Duluth sticker by SJ Nielsen was given to photographers achieving 100k-1m views.

Photographers who had over a million views of their images were given “Top Photographer” awards including the last of Nielsen’s Duluth Alphabet print.

Artist SJ Nielsen holds her best-selling Duluth Alphabet, which was retired at the end of 2022. Top photographers were given the last remaining prints. Learn more about Nielsen here.

In attendance were Destination Duluth’s photographers, staff, and Board of Directors, along with their guests. Destination Duluth’s sustaining partners were also well-represented at the event.

Jay Walker, the Aquarium’s Executive Director, kicked off the evening by welcoming guests with opening remarks. Walker also had the privilege of drawing a guest ticket for the evening’s first door prize – a long-sleeved Aquarium t-shirt and free passes to the aquarium.

Jay Walker, Executive Director of the Great Lakes Aquarium welcomes guests.

Several other prizes were given out through the evening, too, with the grand prize being a stay at the South Pier Inn.

Purpose and Vision

Throughout the course of the evening, the event successfully honored DD photographers, while also providing a refresher on DD’s purpose and vision.

“Our purpose is to educate and inspire people about the quality of place of Duluth, thereby shaping the city and region’s positive growth,” noted DD Managing Director, Jerry Thoreson, who stressed the organization’s mission of inspiring people to #befromDuluth.

Referring to DD’s content creators and the photos they enthusiastically share, Thoreson added, “A picture is worth 1,000 people, and they are coming here – in droves.”

Thoreson also reiterated DD’s core values, which include intentionality, positivity, and genuineness.

The evening was led by Jerry Thoreson, Managing Director of Destination Duluth.

Event Details

Before the celebration even began, photographers were given a unique opportunity to nab some highly unique content for their portfolios; the Aquarium opened its doors early for guests who wanted to participate in an optional “photomeet.” For two hours, guests were allowed to roam freely around the Aquarium, exploring and snapping photos of the exhibits.

A social hour was provided from 5:30 – 6:00 pm, followed by a delicious Italian dinner catered by Valentini’s, a staple in the Northland since 1934. The night concluded with the evening’s formal program, held in the Aquarium’s St. Louis River Space.

Award-Winning Photographers

David Schauer received Top Photographer honors with over 4 million views of his work which centers on ships that sail the Great Lakes.

Sandi Larson who captures images of her daily hikes is the founder and director of Hike Duluth.

Local physician Stephanie Irwin earned Top Photographer ranking with 1.3 million views of her photos.

Adam Bjornberg, who moved to Duluth during the pandemic has quickly become a Top Photographer.

New to DD in 2022, Brian T Johnson lives in the cities, comes to the North Shore often to capture its beauty.

Best-selling author of the book "The Twenty-Ninth Day", Alex Messenger is also a skilled photographer.

Special Guests

As noted, a variety of guests were in attendance, including over 100 photographers and DD’s Board of Directors. With some recent personnel changes, the Board now consists of member and DD co-founder, Branden Robinson, along with Beau Walsh; Dennis O’Hara; Jane Pederson Jandl; and Thoreson.

Additionally, several of DD’s sustaining partners were represented and thanked, including:

  • Great Lakes Aquarium
  • Duluth-Superior Symphony Orchestra
  • Lake Superior Railroad Museum
  • Grandma’s Marathon
  • Duluth Playhouse
  • Lake Superior Zoo
  • North Shore Explorer MN
  • North Shore Scenic Railroad
  • Visit Duluth
  • North Shore Explorer MN
  • DECC


Throughout the evening, Thoreson provided some striking 2022 statistics.

  • 246,000 followers on the DD Facebook and Instagram pages
  • 6,000 posts featured over 300 photographers
  • A record-shattering 91 MILLION views of DD content (an average of 250k a day)
  • An additional 7 million impressions were recorded by Visit Duluth from shared DD content


Co-founder Branden Robinson shared the results from the recently completed survey of DD followers. Of the 579 respondents:

  • 80% live outside of the 50-mile region of Duluth
  • 63% of those who have visited stated DD was influential in their decision to visit Duluth
  • 21% of those who have relocated to the region stated DD influenced their decision.


While statistics are great, the true purpose of the event was to honor and thank DD’s dedicated photographers, who wake up incredibly early, stay up late, and put themselves in some pretty precarious positions to capture the perfect shot.

These artists capture the quality of place offered to those who choose to #befromDuluth.


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