Our judges made their visual verdict on the best imagery from a record 995 submissions by Peninsula photographers.
In a year like no other marked by a surging pandemic, wildfires and heightened awareness of racial and social injustice, many of the photographs taken after March 2020 in this year’s Peninsula Photo Contest have given voice to everyday moments during these not-so-usual times.
These images share stories of isolation, joy and inspiration: from the teen immersed in his phone as the sole connection to his social life while alone in his room during the pandemic, to a boy’s overwhelming joy of being outside surfing, to surreal-looking waves of fog enveloping tree tops on a hazy, smoke-filled day during last summer’s wildfires.
The Six Fifty, Palo Alto Weekly and Palo Alto Art Center have teamed up to bring exposure to images taken by budding and professional photographers of all ages through our annual photo contest, which includes entries from anyone who works, lives or attends school in the 6-5-0 area code, from Daly City to Sunnyvale.
During this year’s competition, the judges reviewed 995 images — more entries than any other year — submitted by 169 adult and youth photographers in six categories: Abstract, Landscapes, Moments, Portraits, Travel and Wildlife.
Each of this year’s 12 winning images, which were taken between January 2016 and 2021, uniquely capture slices of life as they unfolded at home, outdoors and abroad. Some photos share subtle observations, such as the colorful spiral created by a pet chameleon’s long tail that’s curled up around its body while it sleeps, others memorialize fleeting moments, like a dancer’s veil in motion around her body as she performs, and one documents transformation over time through self-portraits taken six months apart.
The winning photographs will be on display, along with 14 honorable-mention images selected for exhibition, at the Palo Alto Art Center, 1313 Newell Road from June 12 to Aug. 14.
Read on to learn more about the ideas and feelings that the photographers hoped to convey through their work, as well as thoughts from the judges on what made the image worthy of a top prize.
“Six Months is composed of two self-portraits taken in my bedroom, six months apart. It reflects the transformations I have undergone this past year and reminds me of those to come.”
—Photographer Emma Sloan
“‘Six Months’ is a stunning self-portrait that illustrates the changes the photographer went through over half a year. Emma’s choice to show themself in the same position and space in both frames highlights the physical differences that Emma presents in the images. The way their body fills the frame and creates negative space and lines draws the viewer in. The choice to angle the camera looking up conveys pride and strength.”
— Contest judge Magali Gauthier
“This photo was taken during the course of a photography Meetup. This was a long exposure with one constant light to the left and then a brighter flash fired as the model reached the focus point. I love the sense of motion with the blurring.”
“‘Dance of the Veils’ is a lovely moment, captured at just the right instant with the dancer’s veils flowing in an ethereal way. The colors are beautiful and warm and the blurring adds a bit of mystery to the image. But the gorgeous light makes it evocative of a Renaissance painting.”
— Pat Tehan
“I made this image during my first trip to Mount Tamalpais. I was hoping to capture the standard sunset fog colors; however, the wildfire smoke prevented much of that. I was able to land a few intimate shots using my 100–400 lens and a 10-stop ND to achieve a 30-second exposure. This particular image had that perfect flow that felt like water moving across the trees, reminding me that fog is made of water.”
“‘Fog Wave’ is a striking image, an elegant capture of the fog moving across Mt. Tamalpais at sunset. We loved the ephemeral quality of the photograph rendered by the unique, deep shades of blues and whites, the sense of flow created by the fog moving across the landscape and the silhouetted details of the trees. The combination of movement and color makes for a balanced, well composed and poetic image.”
— Federica Armstrong
“I went on a walk in the woods and found these tiny mushrooms sitting in a stump and I thought they were so cute so I had to take a picture. I got low on the ground and got really close so my camera could focus on them and get the forest in the background.”
“We loved the image ‘Jellyfish Mushroom,’ a nicely composed photograph capturing mushrooms in the undergrowth of the woods of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The image is well framed by keeping the woods out of focus in the background and capturing the mushroom from below, making the mushroom stand out and tower over the surrounding vegetation with their white, translucent presence, almost mimicking the trees in the background. Looking at the image we can feel immersed in the majesty of the woods, observing its complex and beautiful ecosystem.”
— Federica Armstrong
“We were walking along the promenade in Pleasure Point at sunset when we passed this boy doing some post-surf jumps off a rock into the water. He was filled with such joy each time he got out and ran to jump again. When he threw his arms out it seems to embody that joy he was radiating, which is just what we all needed to feel in the fall of 2020!”
“The exuberance of the joy of being enveloped by the fleeting carefree moments of our lives is overwhelmingly evident in this image. The central figure’s outstretched arms welcomes the imminent impact of piercing the water’s surface, and the subtle message to their fellow water lovers that no one is experiencing more joy in that very slice of time. Though not a full adult, and not necessarily a small child, the subject understands the underlying risk-to-happiness ratio, and in taking the literal plunge, challenges us all to find the joy in the simplest of acts, and relish the resulting happiness for all it’s worth.
From a technical standpoint, the saturation and color grading, though not as natural to the scene itself, accentuates the feeling of the joys of playing in the water, and the space around the subject acts as a frame to magnify the technical, as well as the emotional proficiencies of the author and subject at once.”
— Don Feria
“My father and I were hiking on a foggy day, he was walking in front of me. I saw his silhouette and it felt like an adventurer going into the fog, heading towards the uncharted land.”
— Junyan Zhao
“The beautiful mystery revealed in this image lays forth the opportunity for viewers to interpret — as well as question — the meaning and impact of this photograph. The reduction of the subject to a lone figure, unrecognizable by being photographed from the rear, both adds ambiguity as well as a trust to follow the subject into the literal and figurative mist of the path ahead. The hazy blue upper section of the photo provides a certain instability to the feel of the image, strengthened by the dramatic slope of the hillside that leads the viewer into an imblalance, falling out of frame and further into the unknown. This uncertainty is countered by the soothing and neutral earth tones found in the foreground, providing a familiarity, and therefore stability to the journey the author has lead us on.
The leading lines of the path emphasize the author’s willingness to allow us as viewers to create our own narratives, and come to our conclusions about this image, either through speculation of the unknown, or memories of having found ourselves in similar situations, on the paths we find ourselves traveling day after day.”
— Don Feria
“This candid moment came from July 2020, the summer after the pandemic hit. Standing in the doorway, I captured my brother sitting on a bed, immersed in his phone as the sole connection to his social life. The symmetry of his reflection at an angle conveys irregularity and serves as a portal to millions of other isolated teenagers dealing with the same situation worldwide.”
“The timeliness of this image forces us as viewers to confront the challenges of the last 18 months. The author places the focus of the toll of the pandemic onto the most macro of subjects, from which our collective issues spring forth, but allows the viewer to explore the loss and issues — however major or minor, directly and indirectly — we have all experienced through the effects of the virus. This image magnifies the reality of the consequences of sheltering in place, physical distancing and virtual interactions on some of our most influenced and vulnerable members of our community — our youth — and expands to allude to the larger issues of mental health, opening a dialogue of a disease that affects so many, and creating a pathway to healing.
The strong use of geometry, found in the sharp angles in the furniture, windows and mirror create several physical frames in the overall photo, as well as introducing a mental separation of the people we have been forced to become with the new reality that we are experiencing. The overexposure through the curtains in the window signal a collective consciousness towards hope, though casting the opposite side of the subject in shadow, which, as viewers, we must experience before emerging to the other side.”
— Don Feria
“These are American Pikas, which live in boulder fields, in mountainous areas of the western United States. I found these two as I was driving slowly on a forest road near Snoqualmie Pass in Washington State, and heard the tell tale squeak they make; I usually only hear this sound, and rarely see them. I parked my car (which served as a “blind”), and watched and waited for them to show their faces. I was using my 70–300 mm telephoto lens, so I was able to get close, without getting close. I was very lucky to catch this interaction between them.”
“Love at First Sight” brought a smile to our faces when we first saw it. We are typically only shown images of animals alone, so this image stood out among all the contenders in this category because it showed an interaction between two animals. To the viewer it almost appears like these American Pikas are greeting each other with a sweet smile. It makes the wonderful moment feel relatable.
— Magali Gauthier
“After finding these foxes around sunset, I laid down on the ground as the female red fox slowly approached me, curious of my presence, and I waited until I could get the perfect photo with the golden haze of the sun behind it. This photo is important to me because I made sure not to use any bait or other unethical approaches to photographing the fox like many other photographers do, and I am very proud of that.”
“We were very impressed by the image ‘Moxie Fox,’ a lovely capture of a red fox in the woods. The posture of the fox is quite striking, the animal seems to be posing for the photographer, slowly crossing the field and giving a gentle, curious look. The golden halo framing the fox adds a magical feel to the image, giving us a wonderful glimpse into the remarkable wildlife around us.”
— Federica Armstrong
“I am drawn to abstracts because I am fascinated by the intangible elements of beautiful form and composition. Images like “Cylinder #1” arise from the interplay between serendipity and deliberate acts taken by the photographer. So, what makes this particular image pleasing? I leave that up to the viewer to decide.”
“‘Cylinder #1’ is a pleasingly graphic image, reminiscent of Ernst Haas or Minor White’s work. The colors are beautiful and subtle and the shapes flow well compositionally. One’s eye moves around the image on what feels like air currents or ocean waves.”
— Pat Tehan
“I got my chameleon in July of 2020 and always wanted to use the curled up tail as an abstract piece of photography. I had always wanted a chameleon and the different colors that contrast each other make it a great photo.”
“‘Curled Up’ is an arresting detail of what appears to be a reptile of some kind with its tail forming a classic spiral. According to Vladimir Nabokov, “The spiral is a spiritualized circle. In the spiral form, the circle, uncoiled, has ceased to be vicious; it has been set free.” The colors and shapes are accentuated by the close-up nature of this photo, fulfilling one of the purposes of photography which is to bring our attention to things we might otherwise overlook.”
— Pat Tehan
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