This year’s winners bring focus to obscure moments.

Abstracts winner (adult): Reed Garber, “Underwater.”

Whether viewing the world from underwater or using a flash to illuminate everyday objects in a new way, the winning images in the 2022 Peninsula Photo Contest bring unique insight to life’s otherwise ordinary moments.

This year’s images expose the power of creativity and the various ways those behind the lens chose to capture unexpected moments of joy, exhaustion and humor.

Their work represents a rich mix of photo techniques and images: from a curious raccoon that has emerged from the swamp foliage unaware of the hungry alligator just below to a mother desperate to keep up with a boy on a scooter amid a horizontal blur to the monochrome image of an exhausted dad asleep on an old couch after helping his family clean their house.

For more than two decades, the 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 the annual photo contest, which includes entries from anyone who works, lives or attends school in the 650 area code, from Daly City to Sunnyvale.

During this year’s competition, the judges reviewed 659 images submitted by 137 adult and youth photographers in six categories: Abstract, Landscapes, Moments, Portraits, Travel and Wildlife.

Each of this year’s winning images, which were taken between 2017 and 2022, uniquely capture slices of life as they unfolded at home, outdoors and abroad.

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 through Aug. 20.

Read on to learn more about the photographers and the ideas and feelings they hoped to convey through their work.

*Best in Show* Portraits winner (adult): Christopher Stevens-Yu, “The Lost Years” San Francisco, California.

“This image is part of a larger project titled ‘2020 Vision.’ My aim for this image taken in San Francisco is to place the viewer in the scene that represents the feelings of the past two years where we were all outside observers watching everything and everyone zoom past us. I used a slow shutter speed to blur the passersby with the camera mounted on a tripod and my friend activating the shutter.”

— Photographer Christopher Stevens-Yu

“The heart of ‘The Lost Years’ is about time and isolation, and there are many elements — aesthetically and technically — that contribute to that end. Compositionally, the main subject is placed in the center of the frame with the lines of the seams of wood and nails in the pier also putting him at the center of a visual funnel. There is no question as to where the eye is to go as it rests on the man with the mask. This is reinforced with the repeating lines of the light poles. The blur of the other figures, besides the obvious movement of those figures, gives a sense of the fleeting, ephemeral aspect of time in our lives, especially in the isolation of the pandemic. Finally, the fact that he is the only solid, recognizable figure in the frame furthers the idea of isolation as the world moves around him. The use of black and white enhances the idea of timelessness.”

— Contest judge Neal Menschel

Portraits winner (youth): Jeffrey Mu, “Reflection.”

“‘Reflection’ is a portrait of my sister with paint on her face contrasting with colors on a mirror. It’s a reflection that our experiences are unique to ourselves and help to shape our visions of life’s many facets.”

— Photographer Jeffrey Mu

“‘Reflection’ is a well-implemented, compelling portrait with excellent use of light. It feels like a brave exploration of an internal persona. The uneven, dappled light on the painted face along with the vibrancy and variety of colors of the paint itself gives the impression of the complexity of the person. The reflection, parts of it hidden and with even greater distortion, adds to that perception of the possible inner complications of growing up.”

— Contest judge Neal Menschel

Wildlife winner (adult): Dan Fenstermacher, “Caught in the Act” 2022, Capitola, California.

“A brave pigeon grabbed one of my sweet potato fries with his beak and flipped it back to himself for the getaway in Capitola in 2022.”

— Photographer Dan Fenstermacher

“We couldn’t help but laugh when we first saw ‘Caught in the Act.’ The harsh lighting and the bright red mess from the ketchup set a comical tone for this image. The pigeons are personified thanks to the close-up nature of the shot and how large they appear in comparison to the person in the back of the image (who is, funnily enough, doing what pigeons typically do — hanging out on the pier railing). The notes of orange from the fries to the pigeons’ eyes also tie the image together very well.”

— Contest judge Magali Gauthier

Wildlife winner (youth): Grace Easton, “Racoon vs. Gator” Slidell, Louisiana.

“This photo was taken from a flat-bottom swamp boat in the Honey Island Swamp in Slidell, Louisiana. The curious raccoon emerged from the swamp foliage unaware of the hungry alligator just below.”

— Photographer Grace Easton

“‘Racoon vs. Gator’ is the story of how the natural world interacts. This was captured at just the right moment. The racoon is wonderfully framed between the two trunks and photographed in a bright patch of light. As the raccoon gazes into the distance, it appears sweet, innocent and unaware of the threat that lurks beneath. The gator is also well-placed in the photograph. The tip of its tail a few feet away gives you a sense of the reptile’s size. The slight angle of its head up toward its prey tells a story. Grace waited for the right moment to take the photo.”

— Contest judge Magali Gauthier

Landscapes winner (adult): Eric Doyle, “Arastradero” 2020, Palo Alto, California.

“On an early November hike in 2020, a distant hilltop above the forested saddle of a grassy hill caught my attention at Arastradero Preserve in Palo Alto. The wide-angle lens of my iPhone captured the vortex of terrain, trail, grass and clouds.”

— Photographer Eric Doyle

“We were all drawn to ‘Arastradero,’ thanks to its striking, curvy composition and distinct colors. I can imagine lots of people hiking through the preserve and seeing this scene, but not everyone would think of photographing it so wide or recognize how interesting this moment could be. The ground, the trees, the clouds … they look like they’re dancing. This image was well seen and well captured.”

— Contest judge Magali Gauthier

Landscapes winner (youth): Sarah Simon, “Tangled Woods” Moss Beach, California.

“Although it may not seem like it, I actually took this photo on a coastal cliff in Moss Beach. There was a small clearing off the main path, and it was almost like its own secret den with a gorgeous open view of the ocean, masked by trees and bushes. I took this picture looking back at the woods behind me, so it almost seemed like a portal to this different dimension that separated woods from sea.

— Photographer Sarah Simon

“You feel like you’re looking into another dimension when you first look at ‘Tangled Woods.’ The photo is well composed and well lit. At first, the viewer is confronted with the rough, dark circular wood, and it feels eerie. The round framing leads the viewer’s eye to the center where that same rough wood is a little farther away and leads them toward something new: light. It’s an image of hope and was beautifully shot.”

— Contest judge Magali Gauthier

Abstracts winner (adult): Reed Garber, “Underwater.”

“Taken on Fuji 35mm film with a Nikon Nikonos V underwater camera, this image is from a series exploring the combination of beautiful underwater sunlight and floating fabric in underwater weightlessness.”

— Photographer Reed Garber

“The initial strength of this dramatic image lies in its bold use of colors and strong, simple form. ‘Underwater’ continues to draw you in as you notice the details like the hands, the knee, the designs on the fabric and the reflections of the water. You then recognize the subject for what it is. The final illusion, a clever visual tease, comes with the recognition that the frame is inverted, the shiny reflection is not solid, and the figure is actually not upside down but sticking its head above the water.”

— Contest judge Neal Menschel

Abstracts winner (youth): Brennan Bailey, “Garden Muse” 2021, Palo Alto, California.

“I was inspired to make ‘Garden Muse’ by my exposure to abstract paintings — especially in impressionism. ‘Garden Muse’ was created when I twisted my Canon PowerShot ELPH 180 and used the vivid filter on my camera for the motion blur. The photo was made for my digital photography class at Fusion Academy, Palo Alto, with Margo Davis. I took the photo in my mom’s Palo Alto garden in 2021.”

— Photographer Brennan Bailey

“‘Garden Muse’ is an abstract garden scene that makes good use of blurred movement and the hyper-saturation of colors. It is not so abstract or blurred that the sense of place of a garden could be mistaken. The composition is excellent with the busy, intricate and detailed background of the red, green and yellows of the flowers offsetting the soft and bold lines and curves of the contrasting blue pot. It has the feel of a painting without relying on the kitschy “painter” button in Photoshop. It remains unmistakably a photograph.”

— Contest judge Neal Menschel

Travel winner (adult): Jennifer Fraser, “JOY!” Ladakh, India.

“I met this young monk at the Lamayuru Monastery, one of the oldest Tibetan gompas in Ladakh, India. He was interested in showing me and my fellow photographers his ‘yoga moves.’ With his robe billowing in the breeze and his joyful expression silhouetted against the stark, rocky monastery walls, I thought he expressed an uplifting spirit that I was lucky to capture at the moment.”

— Photographer Jennifer Fraser

“It’s one thing for a photo to give viewers a sense of place. It’s another to delight them with a moment of surprise. ‘JOY!’ delivers both. Viewers are transported to a monastery in Northern India where they share a private moment with a monk. The colors are harmonious, with the textures giving a sense of the ancient structure. The light and color guide your eyes to the monk, who is wonderfully framed in the passage, and the mountains in the distance. It’s a breathtaking photo that works on multiple levels.”

— Contest judge Curt Fukuda

Travel winner (youth): Grace Easton, “Oak Alley Plantation” Vacherie, Louisiana.

“‘Oak Alley Plantation’ was taken from the second-story balcony of the master’s quarters of this historic sugar cane plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana. I was inspired to capture the symmetry of the old oak trees bordering the brick pathway leading to the banks of the Mississippi River.”

— Photographer Grace Easton

“‘Oak Alley Plantation’ is a magical instant captured on the grounds of a grand estate. You sense the coolness and quiet of the morning as the two people walk down the path. The choice of photographing from a higher perspective enhances the view of the path receding between the ancient trees. The dark green of the moss and foliage echo the green of the grass. And the placement of the people gently guides your eyes to the end of the path shrouded in mystery by the morning mist.”

— Contest judge Curt Fukuda

Moments winner (adult): Jim Colton, “Trying to Keep Up” Palo Alto, California.

“I was shooting in burst mode and panning the camera to ‘freeze’ kids riding bicycles and skateboards while blurring the background to show motion. This scene in Palo Alto caught my eye because the presumed mother had to run pretty fast to keep up with her child. What I like about this image is that the mother and child are moving at the same speed, but the mother seems to be frantically moving her arms and legs to keep up with her child.”

— Photographer Jim Colton

“‘Trying to Keep Up’ is a humorous moment that rises above what could have been just a one-joke image. The singularity of the boy on the scooter contrasted with the multiple leg and arm images of the mother tells the story of desperation. The two figures are well-placed against the horizontal blur of the background. The lines of the fence, foliage and sidewalk tie the image together. There are so many elements working together that the image remains fresh every time you look at it.”

— Contest judge Curt Fukuda

Moments winner (youth): Jessica Wang, “The Worn and the Weary” Los Angeles, California.

“I took this photo at my grandparents’ house in Los Angeles while my family was turning the place inside out and sorting through belongings. Amid the disarray, I came across my exhausted dad asleep on an old couch. The painting-like composition and patchwork of patterns convey both the simplicity and eccentricity of this quiet moment.”

— Photographer Jessica Wang

“‘The Worn and the Weary’ is a photograph rich in content and composition. The sleeping father with a bandaged wrist, holding a scrap of paper with a crossword puzzle elicits so many questions. The image is anchored by the horizontal lines of the couch and television in back. We are greeted by an inventory of ties, belts and other personal objects arranged on the couch. The television is overflowing with a collection of family photos. The choice of photographing the image in monochrome brings a harmony to the disparate elements in the photo.”

— Contest judge Curt Fukuda

Honorable Mentions

Moments (adult): Renee Clark, “At Graveside.”
Moments (adult): Wright Schickli, “Exhausted.”
Moments (youth): Andreas Costa, “Assembly.”
Moments (youth): Lucie Lin, “Dark Horse.”
Portraits (adult): Iann Ivy, “Rise and Shine.”
Travel (adult): Ray Renati, “Morning in Alps.”
Travel (adult): Reed Garber, “After School.”
Wildlife (adult): Christopher Stevens-Yu, “Oh Snap.”
Wildlife (adult): Ken Fowkes, “Squirrel Foraging.”
Abstract (adult): Dotti Cichon, “Will it Be a Void in the Darkness or a Bright Hope for the Future?”
Landscapes (adult): Kristy Andrews, “Waves of Rock.”
Landscapes (adult): Jennifer Fraser, “Through the Pier.”
Landscapes (youth): Sarah Simon, “A Glowing Fungus.”
Landscapes (youth): Amaya Onu, “Cotton Candy Clouds.”

Galleries of past Peninsula Photo Contest winners

2021 winners

2020 winners

2019 winners

2018 winners

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