Local photographer becomes household name after years of struggle


Photo Credit: Courtesy of Simon Toffell

Toffell poses with girls varsity soccer captains, Camille Juliana (‘18) and Olivia Trapaghen (‘18). Toffell is said to have an amazing relationship with both players and coaches along with being super interactive with the crowd no matter the sport.

by Sophie Ferreri, Head Copy Editor

The entire Red Bull arena looked as if they had just ripped off their day job uniforms, barely making it to their seats before kick off. Businessmen by day and soccer fanatics by night.

It was a Wednesday in 2012, yet the only place the unemployed, thirty year old Simon Toffell had to be was at the soccer game. He had spent the day watching television and sleeping.

“I wanted so bad to be that person that had to rush to the game,” Toffell said.

Toffell, a redbull season ticket holder, realized he needed to find his purpose in life.

I wanted so bad to be that person that had to rush to the game.”

— Simon Toffell

Initially, Toffell tried volunteering as a teacher’s assistant. His mother was the Hebrew school principal in Washington Township. This allowed Toffell to tag along on weekdays to help around the classroom. He loved working with kids and watching them grow as students. Unfortunately, volunteering at his mother’s school did not work out and Toffell was left without direction.

In the midst of his midlife crisis, Toffell couldn’t help but reminisce over the photography project he did in 2004. Toffell partook in celebrating Glen Rock’s 110th Anniversary by capturing iconic components of the town, including both people and places.

Photo Credit: Simon Toffell
John and Umberto pose for Simon in the kitchen of Glen Rock’s popular pizza place.

The pictures he took were pasted onto a posterboard that was displayed during the town’s celebration. Toffell admired the tedious process of selecting the photos worthy for display but mostly liked how the project had kept him busy.

Toffell first fell in love with photography in middle school when he took an actual photography class. Years later, it had suddenly become apparent to him that his love never vanished. He decided he was going to take a chance and pursue this passion. He hired job coaches to navigate suitable photography jobs who would also help prepare for interviews.

Though he continued to face constant rejection, he didn’t let his motivation waver until one particular interview. The interview was conducted over the phone and was going very well until Toffell disclosed is inability to drive due to medical reasons. The employer was completely turned off with this information and wished Toffell a good day.

“I felt like I hit a dead end,” Toffell said. “I thought I would never find a job.”

Toffell even tried doing a freelance project. He convinced his friends to hop on a train to a huge park in Trenton that he found online. He expected the park to be beautiful and gigantic just like the internet showed it to be. When the park turned out to be a little trail with minimal trees he wanted to “chuck the camera.”

As the 120th anniversary of Glen Rock in 2014 came around the corner, Toffell asked the mayor if he could do the project. When the mayor gave him the okay, Toffell vowed this project would be way better than 2004’s.  

Toffell grew up in Glen Rock and knew how important the high school sporting events were to the town. He knew if he only captured football games it would show a bias, so he planned to feature all sports.

Toffell contacted the Athletic Director of the high school to receive approval to attend and photograph the school’s sporting events. He was approved.

He attended a JV girl’s softball game at Coleman Field. The team Glen Rock was playing did not have enough players to field. Being kind, Glen Rock proposed that the other team take Glen Rock players so they would not have to forfeit the game. Even still, the game was a blowout until a Glen Rock player came to bat for the other team. The Glen Rock player hit a homerun and scored for the other team. Toffell captured the wild moment and became instantaneously inspired by the town’s character displayed throughout the game.

Toffell then rushed to the high school to catch a boy’s baseball game. At the game, Toffell started making conversation with Christopher Fox, the JV girl’s soccer coach and a Phys. Ed. teacher at Glen Rock High School. Toffell disclosed his project with the town ,and Fox was so intrigued he asked Toffell to photograph his team.

“I thought having a photographer at all of the games could be beneficial to my players because they would have a constant audience,” Fox said. “I knew they would be so excited.”

After Toffell impressed Fox with his persistent great work, Fox referred Toffell to other sports coaches in the high school. The positive feedback led Toffell to believe that his sports photography did not have to end with the 120th Anniversary project. Taking photos of Glen Rock sports could be his new hobby: his long awaited purpose.

When the project was over, Toffell remained determined to work with all sports. He would first ask the coach for permission, then would follow up by asking the players if they were ok with their pictures being taken. After the games, Toffell would post his photographs in closed Facebook groups with the athletes.

“The kids trust that I will post their pictures in a timely manner and I will never miss their games if I am available,” Toffell said.

Since 2014, Toffell has covered almost every category of sports within the high school. He became a hit throughout the town. Parents and students recognize him for his Facebook sports photography posts and along with his very friendly personality.

“Everyone loves Simon,” Olivia Traphagen (‘18) said. “I know I can count on him to be at all of my soccer games.”

Photo Credit: Simon Toffell
Olivia Trapaghen steals the ball during a Varsity game from 2017.

Toffell does not get paid to show up at each and every sporting event, but his presence will always be expected among the community. This is not a job he takes lightly. He said that if he’s going to do it he wants to do it right.

Toffell’s favorite thing about sports photography is how a basketball team could be down by, but then suddenly capture some momentum and it becomes a whole new game. Toffell especially likes to capture the dramatic moments.

“I want to make sure that when those students go to college they will have their moments captured like the shootouts that won states or the dog piles,” Toffell said

Toffell is no longer a season ticket holder for the Redbulls due to his busy photography schedule.