This year’s pictures capture chance encounters, abstract scenes and everyday life.

Portraits winner (youth): Jeffrey Mu, “Me and My Shadow” 2022, Stanford, California.

A group of pigeons dancing around an accordionist. Icy leaves resting on a crispy field of grass. A celebration on the gridiron of the Palo Alto High School Vikings. The winning images of the 2023 Peninsula Photo Contest celebrate the diversity of the “decisive moment” (to quote the celebrated Henri Cartier-Bresson). 

Though the majority of the images were taken in California, even the few made abroad shine a light on what happens when photographers do what they do best: observe. This collection of images asserts that meaningful work is created when the random elements around us fall into place all at once and we’re there to watch and capture it. 

One photographer caught the instant an oryx looked in their direction on a sand dune in the Namibian desert. Another captured a bright and colorful fleeting moment on a film set, made all the more interesting by the actors’ contrastingly distant expressions.

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. 

This year, the judges reviewed 1,112 images submitted by 222 adults and youth photographers in six categories: Abstract, Landscapes, Moments, Portraits, Travel and Wildlife. 

The 12 winning photographers and 13 honorable mentions, which were taken between 2018 and 2023, are on display at the Palo Alto Art Center, 1313 Newell Road from June 10 to Aug. 19. 

Take some time to look over the photographs, what went into creating them and why the judges thought they were prize-worthy.


Abstract winner (adults): Christopher Stevens-Yu, “Take Flight” 2020, San Francisco, California.

“‘Take Flight’ is a more abstract take on my favorite San Francisco building, the MIRA SF. I shot this from right below to capture a whole new feel. I went high contrast to elevate the form and geometry. In thinking of a title, I realized the lines of the building gave a sense of wing movement from bottom to top.”

Christopher Stevens-Yu, photographer

“‘Take Flight’ invites its viewer to go on an adventure, not simply due to its name, but thanks to its composition and smart use of lines and contrast. I can imagine myself hopping from bright surface to bright surface, avoiding the dark pitfalls, on my way down the center of the photograph to another world. This to me is what makes ‘Take Flight’ a great abstract work. My initial reaction as a viewer is to have an experience within the image, not to try and figure it out.” 

Magali Gauthier, judge

Landscapes winner (adults): Sue Borg, “Ocean View” 2022, Sea Ranch, California.

“’Ocean View’ was taken at an often-photographed location at the Sea Ranch Lodge on the Sonoma Coast, though typically the images are at sunset and in color. My image sought to simplify the view and focus on the shadows and tones framing the ocean beyond.”

Sue Borg, photographer

“A bold visual with deep blacks that embody the extremes of substance and void. We only see a bit of landscape through the doorway. The opening becomes an eye magnet, pulling us through the portal into another world. By revealing only part of an often-seen image of the ocean and shore, our imaginations fill in the entire seascape. The photo interacts with the viewer in a provocative way. In addition to the strong geometric shapes with everything in sharp focus, the use of monochrome and merging shadows transforms a specific location into a symbol. The landscape becomes a dreamscape.”

Curt Fukuda, judge

Moments winner (adults): Christopher Stevens-Yu, “Pigeon Charmer” 2018, San Francisco, California.

“I happened upon this accordionist on my first visit to the Palace of Fine Arts. I was dumbfounded by the connection between him and the pigeons, who appeared to be dancing to his music. They even felt comfortable enough to rest on his lap. The light and shadows really helped to add mood to this already amazing scene.” 

Christopher Stevens-Yu, photographer

“‘Pigeon Charmer’ is a classic black-and-white street photograph. Strong composition created by the light and shadow, terrific subject matter and perfect timing as some of the pigeons take flight, their shadows filling in the negative space of the plaza directly in front of the accordion player. Not only is it a beautiful photograph, but the clothes, the setting, even the accordion give it a sense of timelessness.” 

Neal Menschel, judge

*Best in Show* Portraits winner (adults): Laura Johnston, “Owl” 2022, Los Altos, California.

“This photo is a collaborative effort between myself as the photographer and my sister as the model and costume maker. We set to the hills with a loose plan and followed intuition to this surreal and spooky outcome.”

Laura Johnston, photographer

“‘Owl’ is one of those images that stops you ‘in your tracks’ with a ‘What is going on here?’ It demands close inspection and much conjecture. Is it a person actually levitating? It doesn’t look like a leap as the body language, with the arms not flailing but hanging calmly, straight down, nor are the dress and boa flying askew, but rather drifting gracefully to the side, which makes the figure look like they are slowly floating left to right. The mask is the exclamation point to the entire fantasy and mystery. The location and cloudy sky add to the dark mood of the figure. A show-stopper for sure, creativity executed deftly!”

Neal Menschel, judge

Travel winner (adults): Andrew F. Pierce, “Pretty as a Picture” 2021, Dillon Beach, California.

“This was captured with my phone at a vacation rental after several attempts over a period of a week, using different cameras, furniture arrangements and framing styles. It was only after I took it that I realized how much it looked like two complementary landscape paintings hung in the corner of a room.”

Andrew F. Pierce, photographer

“A travel photo that makes you look twice before you figure out what you’re seeing. It’s a visual pun, making you scratch your head. Am I seeing what I’m seeing? The harmonious colors and quality of light are gentle and understated. Everything in the photo is equally in focus. All the visual elements work together without jarring the eyes or calling attention to any one thing. Instead, the image works on many levels. On one level, it’s a visual joke. On another,  it documents the beauty and serenity of Tomales Bay. One can also appreciate the formalism of the composition and the careful balance of colors. Technically, the image is a successful balancing act. As many photographers know, it’s so difficult to balance the exterior and interior light levels.”

Curt Fukuda, judge

Wildlife winner (adults): Richard Li, “Oryx on Sand Dune” 2022, photo taken in Namibia desert, handheld from a helicopter.

“It’s a stunning representation of that beauty, capturing a fleeting moment of natural wonder that will stay with you for a lifetime.”

Richard Li, photographer

“The photographer did an excellent job capturing the exact instant that created this stunning composition. On the right side of the image, a warm streak of light is hitting sand being picked up by a gust of wind, which offers a visual contrast to the footsteps of the oryx in the sand on the left side of the photograph. The shadow of the animal continues along the same line as the dune in the back left corner. The oryx itself is looking in the direction of the photographer. Wildlife photography really comes down to capturing the right moment and this was the right moment. Simply, this is a beautiful and striking photograph.” 

Magali Gauthier, judge


Abstract winner (youth): Tyler Wong, “Fuel of a Sunken Ship” 2021, Honolulu, Hawaii.

“’Fuel of a Sunken Ship’ was created in the reflection of oil that floats up from the USS Arizona. On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, the sounds of planes roared over Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii. The next day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed the nation in a speech. ‘Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.’ On that fateful day, 2,403 U.S. personnel were killed, including 1,177 U.S. military personnel aboard the USS Arizona. Now, where they stood nearly 82 years ago stands a memorial where from the wreckage, oil still bubbles up to the surface, giving the water surrounding the memorial a beautiful shimmer.”

Tyler Wong, photographer

“From the advice of the famous photographer, Elliott Erwitt, “Notice!” It is the job, and the gift of fine-art photographers to “see” a scene, an object or an event as extraordinary, while others may simply pass by without noticing these things or pass them off as nothing “special.” The photographer of the photo ‘Fuel of a Sunken Ship’ saw the beauty of a multicolored and toned oil slick laying on top of the water. The composition is excellent (it works either as a vertical or horizontal) with a serene and calm feel. It has a sense of being based on a non-post-processed, non-manipulated photograph. It is not evident what the subject is so there is a mystery to it and when revealed that mystery becomes a pleasant surprise.”

Neal Menschel, judge

Landscapes winner (youth): Chloe Wu, “Ice Frosted Morning” 2022, Palo Alto, California.

“The ground level shot was created by me happily lying stomach-down on the damp concrete. By focusing on the frosty leaves in the foreground, I allowed the sunlight to soften slightly. In Lightroom Classic, I gave the photo a warmer touch to provide comfort amongst the cold leaves, and also to emphasize the dawn of a new day.”

Chloe Wu, photographer

“Wonderful evocation of the morning sun starting to warm up a frosty landscape. The warm tones emanating from the sun contrast with the cooler hues in the foreground. In addition to the use of color, the low perspective and the shallow focus on the foreground brings us intimately close to the icy frost. The blurred background also enhances the feel that the sun’s warmth is approaching but not yet present.”

Curt Fukuda, judge

Moments winner (youth): Tyler Wong, “Division Champs” Year unknown, Palo Alto, California.

“Palo Alto High School wide receiver No. 22 Jason Auzenne raises the championship plaque over his head after securing a tough win against Monterey High School. Palo Alto turned its season around after a 1-6 start and came back in the title game from a 10-point third-quarter deficit to defeat Monterey 27-24. Capturing moments like this is what photographers live for.” 

Tyler Wong, photographer

“‘Division Champs’ is an excellent sports feature image thanks to leading lines, framing and emotion. As a viewer, we immediately know where to look: at the athlete hoisting the trophy above his head. The trophy is framed by the goal posts. The raised arms of athletes to the left and right of the frame lead the eye straight to the center. We can clearly see multiple players’ beaming smiles as they cheer and wave around their helmets and a football.”  

Magali Gauthier, judge

Portraits winner (youth): Jeffrey Mu, “Me and My Shadow” 2022, Stanford, California.

“‘Me and My Shadow’ is a reflection on the many freedoms and liberties of childhood. When I saw this little girl and her shadow peering out from behind a bronze wall, I couldn’t help but think of the carefree and playful days of my own childhood.”

Jeffrey Mu, photographer

“‘Me and My Shadow’ is a compelling use of Richard Serra’s massive steel plate outdoor sculpture behind Stanford’s Cantor Museum titled ‘Sequence.’ The scale of the structure combined with the body language of the subject creates a somewhat ominous sense of trepidation. The image is clean and simple, and the viewer’s eye is immediately drawn to the human form as it jumps out from the large plain surfaces of light, shadow and sky.”

Neal Menschel, judge

Travel winner (youth): Elie Bodner, “A Green Taxi” 2022, Rome, Italy.

“When venturing to The Colosseum with my family, we found ourselves in the midst of a movie set on the cobblestone streets of Rome. As crowd control drove us away from the scene, I had only one opportunity to capture a photo and this is the result. ‘A Green Taxi’ could represent many aspects of the kinetic ambiance of Rome – the movie set, characters in the scene, chauffeurs for the actors, or possibly just the men of Taxi 159 employed in Rome.”

Elie Bodner, photographer

“A feeling of anticipation pervades this Travel photo. This image could also be a winner in the Moments category because it captures a time before something happens. And what happens remains a mystery because we don’t see what the man leaning on the car roof is looking at. Our attention would drift off to the right if not for the two other figures anchoring our attention within the photo frame. Color plays an important role in the impact of this photo. The saturated red dominates the background, the reflection on the roof of the green car and in the stripe running across the lower portion of the photo.”  

Curt Fukuda, judge

Wildlife winner (youth): Thea Louise Dai, “The Girl Next Door” 2022, Nantou, Taiwan.

“I took ‘The Girl Next Door’ on a trip to Taiwan, where I encountered some of the largest spiders I’ve ever met. It took a while to align the web with the glow of a streetlight from behind, but I love how the outline of the spider and each strand of the web is illuminated.”

Thea Louise Dai, photographer

“‘The Girl Next Door’ takes what most would consider quite an ordinary moment, a spider perched on its web, into a celebration of wildlife in its own habitat. By backlighting the scene, we get a beautiful look at the intricacies of the web. We also see details of the spider’s anatomy that we would have otherwise missed: the bend in its limbs, the microscopic hairs on its legs, even its two little fangs. The orange glow contrasted with the dark black also adds a beautiful quality to the image.” 

Magali Gauthier, judge

Honorable Mentions

Portraits (adults): Christopher Stevens-Yu, “Montana Gothic.”
Landscapes (adults): Chu Nguyen, “The Sunflowers at Sunset.”
Landscapes (adults): Greg Robbin, “Windmills at Sunset.”
Wildlife (adults): Hong Chen, “Love.”
Abstract (adults): Kyu Young Kim, “Cal Ave Sunset.”
Travel (adults): Stan Rockson, “No Parking.”
Moments (adults): Sue Klapholz, “Sheer Joy.”
Landscapes (youth): Isabelle Chiang, “Kauna’oa.”
Wildlife (youth): Izzy Klugman, “Wild Turkey Shot in Portola Valley.”
Abstract (youth): Jackson Doren, “Arboreal Circuit Board.”
Moments (youth): Jeffrey Mu, “Sweet Dreams.”
Portraits (youth): Sierra Sullivan, “Hidden Corners.”
Travel (youth): Thea Louise Dai, “Breakfast at Miguel’s.”

Galleries of past Peninsula Photo Contest winners

2022 winners

2021 winners

2020 winners

2019 winners

2018 winners

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