Destination Duluth Hosts 4th Annual Celebration of Photographers Event

Glenn Blaszkiewicz

Destination Duluth Hosts 4th Annual Celebration of Photographers Event

On the evening of Monday, January 15th, 2024 an array of Destination Duluth’s talented photographers, Board members, and sustaining partners – along with their guests - came in from the cold to gather and celebrate.

As in years past, 2023 was a banner year for DD photographers. Throughout 2023, these hard-working artists have continued doing whatever it takes to capture their amazing images.

This often includes working plenty of late nights, early mornings, and enduring inclement weather conditions to shoot – and generously share - their shots. As a result, they continue to attract an astounding number of views to DD’s social media platforms and website.

In 2023, DD content recorded over 88 million views. This averages 240,000 impressions per day. Over the 10.5 year history, their content has 650 million views.

Those jaw-dropping stats are definitely worth celebrating.


The Celebration of Photographers Event was held at Duluth’s Great Lakes Aquarium for the second consecutive year. The warm, humid setting of the Aquarium – featuring plenty of exhibits showcasing fish, birds, and mammals - was a welcome comfort for guests, as outside temps hovered in the negative digits.

Stephanie and Brad Irwin marvel at the moose at the Great Lakes Aquarium.

The Aquarium provided a unique opportunity for the photographers, who were encouraged to arrive early, roam around, and snap photos of the creatures and décor.

The evening kicked off with a happy hour. Later, guests enjoyed a delicious dinner of pasta, salad, and dessert from Valentini’s. A formal program – including plenty of recognition for photographers – comprised most of the evening’s festivities.

Kathleen Wolleat, Rick and Judy Rice enjoy chatting during the social hour.


Jerry Thoreson, DD’s Managing Director, began the formal program with Board member introductions.

Later, DD co-founder and Board member, Branden Robinson, shared some history of the organization. Robinson also expressed reverence for the significance of the day – the event was held on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Remarks were also given by photographer Hansi Johnson – who worked hard to promote Duluth in the May 2014 “Best Town in America” contest through Outside Magazine. Tanner Hermes also spoke; this talented physician assistant, photographer, and his family decided to move to Duluth after reading the Outside Magazine story on all Duluth offers the outdoor enthusiast.

Outside Magazine "Vote Duluth" contest organizer Hansi Johnson, was pleased to meet Tanner and Pam Hermes.


Thoreson took some time to reiterate DD’s purpose, mission, vision, and values for the evening’s guests:

Purpose: To foster a connected, vibrant, and growing city

Mission: To create and curate content that inspires, educates, and connects people to Duluth, showcasing its unique quality of place

Vision: To see people filled with a deep sense of belonging and identity with Duluth

Values: Intentional, positive, and genuine

New in 2024

Thoreson also noted that, heading into 2024, DD has several new initiatives/priorities in the works. They include a new and improved website experience.

The continuation of the Eat & Drink Duluth initiative was also announced, featuring restaurant reviews and photos, completed by writer Andrea Busche and photographer Mike Busche.

And, the Arts & Entertainment initiative will continue into 2024, as well. This segment includes theater reviews and artist profiles, completed by writer and theater reviewer, Sheryl Jensen.

Thoreson also announced a Kickstarter campaign, to raise funds for the creation of Watercolors – a documentary about local artist SJ Nielsen, the creator of the Duluth Alphabet.

Thanks, Sustaining Partners!

During the program, DD’s sustaining partners – including Glensheen Mansion, Grandma’s Marathon, South Pier Inn, the Duluth Grill “family” of restaurants, Essentia, Lake Superior Railroad Museum, Bent Paddle, Lake Superior Zoo, and Split Rock Lighthouse – were recognized and thanked. Many of the night’s door prizes were shared by these generous organizations.

Prizes included a Duluth Grill cookbook, a private tour of the Zoo, and plenty of merch. The grand prize – a two-night stay at the South Pier Inn – was given out at the end of the program.

Celebrating Photographers

The largest part of the program, however, was reserved to recognize and honor DD’s talented photographers. A variety of photographers were recognized by name. They also received a certificate for their work.

Awards were given in the following categories, based on the number of views the photographer has received:

50-200k Club Awards

Receiving awards for having 50,000 to 200,000 views of their images were (from lowest to highest) Joe Garfield, Kyle Johnson, Marius Anderson, Dan Bielski, Colin Willemsen, Ingrid Johnson, Marybeth Kiczenski, Dana Malkovich, Bob Jauch, Andrew Jerry, Roxanne Distad, Ryan Rumpca, Dominic Ricci, Randy Wolf, Dustin LaVingne, Scott Rockvam, Bill Donovan, Paul Chen, and David Brickner.

Marybeth Kiczenski, drove from her home Chicago to attend the Celebration.

200-300k Club Awards

Receiving awards for having 200,000 to 300,000 views of their images were (from lowest to highest) Matthew Moses, Kyle Arndt, Heather Moe, John Keefover, Tim  Beaulier, Gregory Israelson, Brian T. Johnson, and Dawn LaPointe.

Kyle Arndt proudly displays his award for being in the 200-300k Club.

300-400k Club Awards

Receiving awards for having 300,000 to 400,000 views of their images were (from lowest to highest) Nicholas Stamper, Kathleen Wolleat, Jim Schnortz, Sandi  Larson, Travis Novitsky, Nole Maurice, Scott Youmans, Jamie Rabold, Donald Jay Olson, Jeff  Sundin, and Cary Schmies.

Jeff Sundin displays is award for being in the 300-400k Club.

400-500k Club Awards

Awarded for 400-500,000 views of their images were Edward Lee, and David R. Johnson. In the 500-600,000 Club were Rick Rice, Paul Scinocca, and Charles Howard Smith

Edward Lee was recognized for having over 400,000 views of his images.

600-700k Club Awards

Receiving awards for having 600,000 to 700,000 views of their images were (from lowest to highest) Jesse Nord, Jane Herrick, and Nancy J Lindberg,

Nancy Lindberg was awarded for being in the 600-700 Club.

700-800k Club Awards

In the 700-800,000 Club were Marcie Crain, Glenn Blaszkiewicz, Lindsey Ruhnke, Mark Ellis, Adam Malmanger, and Melissa Dressely.

Melissa Dressely was awarded for being in the 700-800k Club.

800-900-1m Club Awards

Those with 800-900,000 views of their images were Douglas Kilen, Joe Polecheck, Cody Lau, Jan  Swart, and Tanner Hermes. Andy Kunz was awarded for being in the 900k-1 million bracket.

Tanner Hermes was recognized for having over 800,000 views of his images on Destination Duluth.

Top Photographers 1-2 million

The photographers whose images had more than 1 million views are named in the“Top Photographer” category. With 1-2 million views were (in order lowest to highest) Amber Nichols, Scott Bjorklund, Ken Harmon, Rich Hoeg, George Ilstrup, Steve Mattson, Martha Lind, Ken Palmer, Tim Mlodozyniec, Ryan Tischer, John Heino, Nicholas J. Narog, Steve Sola, Dennis O'Hara, and Stephanie Irwin.

Martha Lind was received a Top Photographer award for having more than a million views of her images.

Top Photographers 2+ million

The Top Photographers with over 2 million views included Mike Mayou, Hayes Scriven, Matthew Pastick, Adam Bjornberg, Jeffrey Doty, Nathan Klok, and David Schauer.

Nathan Klok was runner-up of the most views for 2023 on DD, with over 4 million.

Special Trophy Awards

Additionally, some special awards were new this year:

Scott Bjorklund was recognized with the Burst Mode Award, recognizing his burst in contributions going from just a few in 2022 to over 30 photos featured in 2023, with over 1 million impressions.

Scott Bjorklund won the Burst Mode Award.

Mike Mayou was granted the new Hot Shoe Award, recognizing the hottest new contributing photographer. His images were seen over 2 million times.

Mike Mayou won the Hot Shoe Award.

David Schauer was given the f/1.4 Award, recognizing his highest exposure on Destination Duluth with over 6 million views of his images.

David Schauer was unable to attend was recognized as the winner of the f/1.4 Trophy for most views of his images on DD.

And the night’s top honor – a new lifetime achievement award called the Blue Moon Award - was given to Dennis O’Hara, the owner of and Dennis was a pioneer in website photography, having started his photography website in 1992, just 3 years after the World Wide Web was created. People from all over the world appreciate his Duluth Harbor Cams, that feature live-streams of ports and points of interest from Bayfield to Duluth to Grand Marais.

Dennis O'Hara is well-deserving of the Blue Moon Award for his lifetime of northland photography.

Summing up a Great Year

Now in its 11th year, Thoreson is pleased to wrap up another great calendar year with Destination Duluth and looks forward to what 2024 might bring. Above all, he remains profoundly grateful for DD’s hardworking photographers and the warm reception Destination Duluth continues to receive. "Each Like, Comment and Share is meaningful, as people take a moment to appreciate the wonders of Duluth and the North Shore," Thoreson states.

About the writer

Andrea Busche is a Duluth + regional freelance writer and small business owner. She is credited with over 1,000 bylines in local print and digital publications. She has been a frequent contributor to Destination Duluth since 2017.

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