By Kristen Hunt
Arts & Entertainment Assistant Editor
From digital art major to Miss New Jersey USA 2016 to full-time photographer, Jessielyn Palumbo (‘14) is her own definition of a “badass” woman. In a studio overlooking the water of Bay Head beach, Palumbo is a one-woman show with nothing but a Canon camera, a backdrop and an electric mini fan. Using her platform and career to uplift and empower women, she hopes to break the stereotypes surrounding pageantry.
“Once you shoot with Jessielyn, you realize how multi-talented she is. She is not simply just the photographer, but she is also the set-manager, director, producer and basically the whole crew,” said Miss New Jersey USA 2019, Manya Saaraswat.
Owner of Jessielyn Palumbo Studio LLC. located in Bay Head, N.J., the alumna spends most of her time capturing a wide variety of creative styles. From editorial to swimwear to portrait style photography, Palumbo’s work has been published in several magazines such as Maxim, Us Weekly and Muscle & Fitness.
Palumbo’s photography career kick-started after winning the title of Miss New Jersey in 2016, her first gig being a headshot photographer for pageant contestants.
Today, Palumbo’s most recognized clientele includes the Miss Universe Organization, Miss America, Bravo’s Real Housewives of N.J., singer MAX!, actress Emily Tosta and Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Haley Kalil.
Working her way to a household name in the pageant industry, Palumbo said that being Miss New Jersey herself created a niche group of clients, allowing her to build expertise in the style. Pageant photography is now considered her specialty.
“I first worked with Jessielyn when I won Miss New Jersey USA. She captured my crowning as well as my first official photographs as a titleholder. I was fairly new to pageantry and being in front of the camera but Jessielyn made me feel comfortable and confident right from our first shoot,” Saaraswat said.
Born and raised in Wayne, N.J. as the youngest of three sisters, Palumbo had a creative spirit ever since she was young, and was inspired to become an artist by her two grandmothers.
“Both my grandmothers were great artists that taught me how to draw portraits,” she said. “As I grew older, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in art, particularly drawing and painting, and I originally entered TCNJ as a fine art major.”
It wasn’t until her sophomore year at the College that Palumbo fell in love with photography, and decided to switch her major to digital art with a minor in fine art.
Despite having graduated in 2014, the professional photographer is a proud lion to this day.
“I loved that TCNJ is a smaller school so you’re able to form closer bonds with professors and classmates,” Palumbo said. “Professors really helped guide me into my career, and gave me significant advice and feedback.”
Palumbo was first introduced to pageantry by her big sister, Carissa, who competed in pageants as a teenager. After being encouraged to compete for Miss Teen New Jersey USA her senior year of high school, Palumbo fell in love with the experience — the confidence she felt, the friendships she made and the doors that opened for her. The artist “caught the pageant bug,” competing four times for the title of Miss New Jersey USA which she ultimately won in 2016.
During her reign, Palumbo attended both philanthropic and red carpet events that gave her career opportunities and molded her into the person she is today.
“Not only were events great networking for my career, but I was able to first-hand help and inspire people,” she said.
As someone who feels strongly about female empowerment, Palumbo addresses the misconceptions about women in pageants, and through her photography, hopes to send the message that a titleholder is more than just a pretty face.
“Pageants are a stepping stone and a gateway for a lot of women to get ahead in life. They help you enter your dream career by gaining connections, and more notability,” said Palumbo. “They also give you scholarships, and the confidence to succeed at public speaking and interviews.”
The photographer based her senior photography thesis at the College on this exact concept in a series of photos showcasing an unseen side of pageant winners called “The Doppelgänger Series.” The project won Palumbo the Dean’s Purchase Award.
“I took photos of pageant ladies in their crown, and photoshopped them interacting with themselves with their careers to combat pageantry stereotypes,” she said. “Some people assume if you’re in pageants you’re ditsy or shallow, but they’re some of the most intelligent, overall badass women. The last Miss USA was a lawyer and Miss America a scientist.”
With over 12,000 Instagram followers, Palumbo not only uses social media to showcase her work but also to promote and celebrate her clients’ businesses and careers.
“Jessielyn has totally brought my vision to life with all marketing ideas I had. Without her expertise, my vision for my brand would have never come to life! She’s unreal!” said former Miss New York Teen USA 2015 and owner of GC Glam Cosmetics Geena Cardalena.
Despite having a “hectic” month with a busy work schedule and preparation for her wedding, Palumbo is able to provide some exciting news about a possible upcoming TV show highlighting powerful women.
“There is talk of a potential TV show I’ll be involved in along with a few other pageant ladies. The premise is to demonstrate strong females that happen to also be pageant ladies, succeeding in their work field & breaking pageantry stigma — that’s still to be announced,” she said.
With incredible memories and some once-in-a-lifetime opportunities along the way, a 29-year-old Palumbo is taking the world by storm and she offers a piece of advice to freshmen at the College.
“Trust yourself and the process. Sometimes as an artist, you question yourself and if you’re doing everything right,” she said. “As long as you’re being authentically you, you can’t be wrong. Don’t try to mimic someone else, be true to yourself and be confident.”