Joni’s Photo Show- Joni’s Nature Photo Show at Nik’s Raritan Pub

Joni and Julio cleaning up the Raritan river

By- Tom Kubrak

Everything was set up. It was finally happening. Her photos, she worked tirelessly to get ready for the show were now ready to go. Joni’s first show, to expose her work to the community, was now underway.

One of those reasons this show in March was happening…

“I have my camera with me everywhere I go.”

She’s just someone that’s ready for when that opportunity arises. In the age of smartphones and high definition cameras, it’s not hard to find someone without a ton of photos on their phone; taking up a majority of their available space. Soon, of course, we know it will cause those people’s phones to get a little slower due to an overfilled phone, but that’s beside the point. The point is, Joni started there too, and remembers those days fondly using her phone for all of her photographer efforts when her passion for photography was beginning to blossom. 

Then she made an investment. That investment was into a Canon Rebel t6I camera. It was time to take her game to the next level and it was time to take this serious. Well, maybe it was still for fun for her, but she just wanted to capture bigger and better photos. Having her own show really wasn’t in her mind but when someone approached her to display them her work became validated and a little more than just a fun hobby.

The hump to get over though would be the, not-so-common sight off someone walking around everywhere with a professional camera to take those epic shots, when the opportunity arises. Joni has grown quicker than other photographers just starting out because of her rare and fearless nature to take that camera with her everywhere she goes. She’s always ready to capture the shot. And that camera rarely has a moment to breath because her eye sees many opportunities. all the eyes. She’s willing to stand out like a sore-thumb for her craft. 

It must have begun a long time ago on her “Hundred acre farm with nothing to do” where she had ample opportunities to just gaze and study her naturefied backyard oasis. In a place like that; not all, but some develop a keen eye and love for nature. In her case she absolutely fell in love and careered that into her career as a photographer.

Where that opportunity first arose for her: She was just out and about in the town she loved and someone overheard her conversation to her friend about her photos. Of course, when you’re talking around some people who love the arts, you’re bound to get that “Hey, I’m sorry to interrupt, but are you a photographer/artist or something?”

And she did. The rest is just history.

Much like her farm growing up, with the open vast space with over a hundred acres on it, opportunities just kept coming up before the show happened. It was tough, lots of work to put up and a little time, but they got it up and it was displayed for about 3 months.

All from just being vulnerable and willing to talk about her passion to someone she just met.

The days were draining as she prepared for the show but the time seemed to go by quicker than expected in preparation for her first show showcasing her incredible ability as a photographer.

Niks Raritan Pub

Niks Raritan Pub was hosting the event and gracious enough to leave her work up for three months. It was a process though to get to the point to even put up the photos to be looked at but when they were up. Wooah was it a show. So much work had been put into getting it up and finally they were up for the community to see.


Looking around the venue of the event there definitely was a theme to the whole thing; a similarity of photos to see. One of those elements was the nature element. Nature was just a part of her and this show wouldn’t be complete or a ‘Joni McKelvey Show’ if it did not have nature in it.

“Nature is a healing place for me to be.”

Although Joni’s professional career in photography has not been as long as some might think, looking at her photos you would think otherwise. The photos she takes are from places she knows and loves. With that, she knows the details of these places and brings that ‘other side’ into her photos. The positions she sometimes has to go to to get these shots is something other photographers just aren’t willing to do.

In each of her photos there’s an element of her in it too. Finding her love of nature a long time ago growing up on that seemingly endless wilderness in Bedminster,she has grown that eye for those sometimes unseen shots that other photographers fail to capture because their…well it’s something that only the photographers that are willing to go the extra mile would understand.

The Show

If you came into the bar that night, on March 30th, 2019, there definitely was a pathway laid out for you. With the amount of work to expose it was a little overwhelming trying to figure out how to put everything up on the walls but it was done after a lot of effort in a short span of time. 

First, if you wanted to take in everything in a seamless path, you had to start in The Lounge. In the lounge you found the table laid out with framed pictures and standing candles. Those candles of course had a letter on each spelling out her name JONI McKELVEY. Most of the places in the lounge were from a variety of nature photos on the east coast including New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

“They were nature shots of places I’ve been too.”

Next, you would have went towards the side door where the military photos were. If you looked up from that on the side wall you would have seen the beautifully decorated photo of the Nevius Street Bridge. Then, if you were still going in the correct revolution of the show, you would have gone to the immaculately displayed ‘painted photo.’ It was a technique she had just tried out one day; and the experiment worked!

From there it would have taken you to another section of the show. These photos were of the blue birds in trees and they put up above a nice window frame up by the opposite entrance.

Continuing to follow the path of the show, you would have hit another section of photos which displayed more interesting locations that she had been in. And then from there you would have trailed down the table, she set up, with clear yellow Christmas lights that lit each photo up beautifully. Then leading to the final exhibit of her infamous… ‘Frozen Bubble Photos.’ Which, at the moment, she’s not about to give away the secret to creating one. For now though, you can enjoy the photos of the piece she discovered . 

The Many Locations of The Show

It was full of many. Too many too count really. Here are a few of the locations, to name a few. 

Shades of Death Trail, Pennsylvania

Hamden New York, Covered bridge

Letchworth, New York

Grand Canyon of the East 

Merril Creek New Jersey

Tunnels bridges sunsets

Lambertville train

North Branch Viaduct



…and of course; Raritan

Military Photo Shoots

“2 husbands were getting deployed to Somalia together for a year.”

So, she did two military photo shoots. Sometimes when you take one opportunity more come up. It’s an unexplainable thing that science has yet to prove. Shortly after locking in the art show at Niks Pub an opportunity came up to take a memorable and everlasting photo shoot; with a friend who was saying goodbye to her loved one for awhile. In the military, it’s something that only the brothers and sisters in arms understand but saying goodbye before these deployments is hard, because some of these deployments stretch for years. So capturing moments like these are truly special and an honor.

Painted Photos

“I just decided to paint on photos and it actually worked.” 

There are many different elements to Joni’s work. One of those elements is her ability to get up close and personal to get her signature intimate look. Another part of her work, which is the most recent, is her painting photos. 

She found the style, from just continuing to evolve and experiment. Now, it was just time to duplicate it. After some more trial and error some incredible pieces came out. One of those pieces was her biggest picture in the show that day. It was a photo taken at one of her favorite places in Pottersville New Jersey. An old secluded garden. Having been to many old places she’s noticed a slight trend in the ones that are still around.

“They put the time and effort into making it last.”

The River

Everyone has a true love or a couple things that they can truly relate too. For Joni it’s the river.

“The river is home for me; ever since I was 13.”

Everything has to start somewhere and the river was one of those starting points for Joni. A tell tale sign of that is by looking at the photos. Many of the nature shots and photos of animals were captured on some journeys next to the river.


“The Raritan Trail is my go to spot.”

It’s no secret either, but when Joni goes is the secret. She might be out when you’re sleeping or when you’re ending your shift at work. Raritan though is her photography playground through. It’s also, for Joni, where she and her dog Julio reside, explore on foot or on their kayak. Ever since she got here and it still continues to be. 

Ever since she moved here in 1996 it’s just been the home for her and her creative process. 23 years she’s come to love it. She’s known the river for awhile but the town, over the last 23 years, she’s become involved in the community and is a part of many things in town. Including the Basilone Parade Committee, The Green Team and The Environmental Commission.

What’s Next

Joni isn’t stopping just yet. If you’re looking forward to her next show, there’s no need to worry, because what she’s cooking up next is something that everyone should either be super excited for or; super excited. You really have some good choices in the matter.

“In October I want to teach myself landscapes and start shooting people more.”

We know she doesn’t go anywhere without that camera, so I think we all can trust that she’s going to master this mission that she’s embarking on.  

“Opportunities multiply when you seize them.” -Joni McKelvey

By- Tom Kubrak


IG & TWTR @tomkubrak