BAYONNE, NJ - Bayonne has two photography clubs, and members say that the city is ideal for the pastime because it offers everything from unique architecture to history to wildlife.

"We have a good mix in this club," said resident David Dávila Ortiz, who founded the Bayonne Camera Club two years ago. "Some people like landscapes; others like city scenes. We all come together to share our knowledge."

Both the Bayonne Camera Club and the Bayonne Photography Club have a presence on Facebook. Both groups encourage members to post their photos for others to see, but the former group also discusses the technical aspects of taking pictures.

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Ortiz and his fellow Camera Club members said they each have a favorite subject to photograph.

Member Marcin Kocoj, who moved to Bayonne 10 years ago, met Ortiz while taking photos of wildlife in local parks, particularly birds. He said his favorite subject to capture is ships – freight ships, container ships, cruise ships. He even has downloaded an app called MarineTraffic that lets users know when certain vessels are heading down the river.

Bayonne also offers a contrast to the floating industrial behemoths: wildlife ranging from bald eagles to seals.

"We've gotten bald eagles, hawks, a lot of seals come here, and we’ve even had sharks a few times," said Karyn Tsiranides, a group member who grew up in Bayonne. "You can be walking down the street and see a bald eagle go past."

She said that the newly opened walkway on the Bayonne Bridge has afforded exciting opportunities to photograph everything from the New York skyline to unusual birds.

But there’s one problem.

"You have to take photos through the bars," said Tsiranides, whose favorite subjects are local architecture and history. "Sometimes with your phone you can do It."

Kocoj said that it was more difficult to take shots through the bars with the type of equipment he was using.

Nonetheless, he's gotten up as early as 5 a.m. to head to the park on First Street to conduct photo shoots near the water. Members say the sunsets over Newark are as enticing as the Manhattan skyline.

Ortiz said he's made new friends through the group, and that carrying his camera in the parks leads to discussion.

"It's a good conversation starter," he said. "I go to the park and people ask, ‘What are you doing, why are you here’?”

"People join [the group on Facebook] pretty much every week," he added. "We'd like to get more people."

Real-life meetups have been sporadic because most people in the group have full-time jobs that don’t involve photography, said Ortiz, who works full-time for Verizon in New York. However, they occasionally announce group photo shoots.

Besides showing off their photos, the members often discuss the best equipment to use.

"It's a good place to trade or sell camera lenses," Ortiz said. "We exchange ideas amongst each other."

Tsirandides said that members of all levels are welcome, and that the more experienced members often help newbies.

Somebody’s watching you

But in these times of terrorism, taking photos can arouse suspicions.

Ortiz said that when he was on vacation in Greece, he wasn't allowed to take photos of certain landmarks. And Kocoj said that four years ago, after he’d taken a lot of photos of ships from the First Street area, he got a call at work from the FBI.

A female agent said she wanted to speak with him, he recounted.

"I said, 'I live In Bayonne. We can meet at Dunkin’ Donuts after work,” he said.

And that’s the story of how the local Dunkin Donuts became the site of an FBI rendezvous.

"Two women walked in, in ‘Men In Black’ type suits," Kocoj remembered. "It was part of the whole 'See something, say something’ [campaign]. They said, 'We got a few phone calls about people taking photos of ships and the bridge.’"

Kocoj said they had obviously done research on him, since they had his office number. He also found out that they'd visited his house while he was at work. His mother was there, visiting from Poland, and "She thought they were insurance agents,” he says.

He answered all their questions. At the end, "I asked one of them, ‘Am I allowed to keep doing this?’” he said. “She said, 'Yes, go on with your life.’ "

Officials are particularly vigilant about people who take photos near the ports, considering the amount of foreign freight coming in and out of the area.

Kocoj said that he was fine with the agents asking questions. "It means they're doing their jobs," he said.

But has he gotten any other reactions to his photography?

"Just lots of thumbs up," he said, laughing. "I guess that's a good sign."


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