From teenage shutterbug to local Emmy winner: Randee Daddona

05/07/2015 10:00 AM |
Freelance photographer and videographer Randee Daddona with the Emmy award she received Saturday. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

Freelance photographer and videographer Randee Daddona with the Emmy award she received Saturday. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

The work of photojournalist Randee Daddona first landed on the cover of a New York City tabloid at the tender age of 13.

Then a student at Mark Twain Junior High School for the Gifted and Talented in Coney Island, Ms. Daddona (née Post) and her classmates were on a field trip in Brooklyn when they stumbled upon some breaking news: An unlicensed driver had just backed into a mounted police officer, pinning him and his horse between her bumper and a parked taxi. The troupe of aspiring photographers saw an opportunity in calamity.

“We were like, ‘Wow, here’s an assignment,’ ” Ms. Daddona recalled. “The Daily News was there. They were enthusiastic about us taking pictures.”

The police officer wasn’t seriously injured, but the story made page one of the April 27, 1976, edition of the newspaper and featured a quote from Randee Post.

“I told them, ‘Wow, I’ve never been under so much pressure before,’ ” Ms. Daddona, 52, said during a recent interview outside North Fork Roasting Co. in Southold. “I told them I was used to taking pictures of bums and homeless people.”

Nearly four decades later, Ms. Daddona, a regular contributor to Newsday who also shoots for Times Review Media Group and Edible East End, is still in the game and producing some of the region’s best photojournalism.

On Saturday, Ms. Daddona took home a New York Emmy in the best lifestyle feature category at the New York chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ annual awards ceremony at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. She was honored for a Newsday video she made about North Fork Sea Salt owners Scott and Kassata Bollman. The piece was shot in Cutchogue and she shares the award with Newsday assistant managing editor Arnold Miller and video editor Jeff Basinger.

GETTING HER START

Ms. Daddona admits her photojournalism career might never have materialized were it not for Sylvia Lederman-Hyland, her photography teacher at Mark Twain in the mid-1970s.

“When I picked up that first camera, she said, ‘This is what you are going to do,’ ” Ms. Daddona recalled. “She took me to galleries on her own time. If there is someone in your life who mentors you like that, say thank you.”

Ms. Daddona said she lost contact with Ms. Lederman-Hyland after she moved on from Mark Twain, but the pair reconnected when Ms. Daddona found her former teacher through social media in 2012. They set a date and met for a meal at Gargiulio’s Restaurant on Coney Island.

“I was so nervous, like I was going to meet a rock star,” Ms. Daddona recalled. “My heart just dropped when I saw her. I said, ‘I love every single day of work because of you.’ ”

Her teacher, who was then in her 80s and suffering from cancer, died two months later. Later that year, Ms. Daddona received a letter from Ms. Lederman-Hyland’s husband, John.

“He said, ‘I want you to know what you said to her meant everything,’ ” Ms. Daddona said.

It was a two-way street.

Her early relationship with Ms. Lederman-Hyland had helped build the then-teenager’s confidence, so when Ms. Daddona saw a movie being filmed in Coney Island in the late ’70s, she thought nothing of writing to the producers to ask if she could hang out on set. She picked up a copy of Variety to find out who to contact and sent a letter.

The producers had brought her behind the scenes for a day when someone mistook her for a crew member.

“They said, ‘Can you get a cup of coffee for the director [Stephen Verona]?’ ” she said. “I had never made a cup of coffee in my life. I was 15!”

Whatever she did that day, it impressed the crew. They were so taken with Ms. Daddona, they offered her a production assistant job and she went on to work on films like “The Chosen” and “The King of Comedy” — all before her 20th birthday. (And she has the IMDB credits to prove it.)

“Jerry Lewis signed my yearbook,” she said. “But I worked my butt off. I was the first on set and the last to leave.”

The cover of the April 27, 1976, edition of the Daily News featuring Randee Post and her journalism classmates.

The cover of the April 27, 1976, edition of the Daily News featuring Randee Post and her journalism classmates.

FAMILY FIRST

Ms. Daddona then enrolled in Manhattan’s School of Visual Arts, where she earned a bachelor of fine arts. She married her high school sweetheart, Lenny Daddona, and the couple moved to Cedarhurst. Soon after, she gave birth to their son Matthew, the eldest of the Daddonas’ five children.

“I stepped back from the film industry and went into photos again,” Ms. Daddona said. She launched her own photography business, shooting family and children’s portraits, and worked for the Nassau Herald — sometimes with her kids in tow.

“We took our own paths with things, Randee and I. We never once had one of those jobs where you had a retirement package or health insurance,” said Mr. Daddona, who owns a landscaping and irrigation business. “We always had to put away what little we could.”

The pair tag-teamed responsibilities, with Mr. Daddona coaching youth sports and the available parent preparing dinner when necessary.

“We never could afford help, so everything was just us,” Mr. Daddona said.

If balancing raising Matthew, now 25, Kaitlin, 22, Julia, 17, and 13-year-old twins Olivia and Michael with a successful journalism career ever brought Ms. Daddona down, she doesn’t show it.

“It’s easy,” she said. “Life happened. There’s a lot of things to do, places to go, but you just do it.

“It went fast. I’ll tell you that.”

A BIG BREAK

The family moved to Southold about 10 years ago and Ms. Daddona soon met Eileen Duffy, who was then the editor at The Suffolk Times and is now the editor of Edible East End and Edible Long Island. The pair were shooting at a concert at Martha Clara Vineyards featuring local family musician Brady Rymer when Ms. Daddona offered to lend Ms. Duffy an expensive Canon lens.

“She was like, ‘Here, if you want to use it for a little while,’ ” Ms. Duffy recalled. “I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ She was so nice.”

Ms. Duffy began assigning stories to Ms. Daddona and a decade later, the photog is still capturing the North Fork’s artisanal food and beverage producers for Edible magazines.

“The thing about Randee is she never says no,” Ms. Duffy said. “She’s a lot of fun and it makes the subjects of her photos really comfortable, so you get a really human element.”

In 2009, Ms. Daddona got a call from Newsday and was soon offered an assignment. Three years later, an editor at the daily paper asked if she could shoot video.

“I said, ‘Yeah.’ I had a feel of how things were supposed to look. I watched a lot of videos on how to do things and I taught myself,” Ms. Daddona said. “And then they threw me on assignment.”

The inspiration for the sea salt story came when she was having lunch at The Cheese Emporium by Bruce and Son in Greenport. Ms. Daddona examined a bottle of salt on the table and asked chef Scott Bollman, whose family owns the establishment, where it came from.

“He said, ‘Well, I harvest it,’ ” Ms. Daddona said. “I’m looking at him and I said, ‘Wow, can I come with you?’ And he said, ‘Sure.’”

She pitched the story to Newsday and was given the green light.

“It was January. It was 22 degrees. He lent me his wife’s wet suit and we went out there,” Ms. Daddona said.

The pair paused to take in the predawn light over the Peconic Bay.

“I said, ‘Scott, we’re both working right now. Isn’t that incredible?’”

Mr. Bollman called the finished product a well-deserved win for the best photojournalist he knows.

“We had so much fun shooting this video,” he said in an email. “When you put two people together with a passion for their craft, you are undoubtedly going to create something of beauty.”

The two-minute video documents Mr. Bollman’s trek into the water — something she said he does even on the coldest days of the year — to retrieve buckets of the region’s most abundant natural resource. He transports the salt water to a commercial kitchen in Cutchogue, where it is slowly boiled down into salt.

“All of a sudden these beautiful crystals appear in front of you,” Ms. Daddona said.

Although the video features stunning visuals like Mr. Bollman backlit by the rising sun and underwater closeups of saltwater filling a bucket, Ms. Daddona said she attended Saturday’s awards ceremony with no expectation of winning. She would have been happy just to see a clip of her work in the ceremony’s introduction video.

There is only one word Ms. Daddona uses to describe hearing her name announced in a room full of New York media giants: surreal.

“I felt like [the stage] was 10 miles away. Like I needed MapQuest to get there,” she said. “The first thing I said was, ‘I’m speechless. I mean it. I didn’t bring a speech.’ ”

The award was one of five Emmys Newsday took home that night — a record for the news organization.

“I am so proud of our entire team who bring compelling stories to life every day. These awards are a great honor,” Debby Krenek, Newday’s editorial director and senior vice president for digital media, said in a Newsday.com story.

When asked how it feels to win such a prestigious award after so many years in the business, Ms. Daddona replied modestly.

“The video is beautiful because of its surroundings,” she said. “The story spoke for itself.

“It’s just me doing my job. It’s not about an award. It’s just me telling stories. And this gives me the drive to go out there and do more.”

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