As the digital age evolves, so does the culture of photography. And those small, everyday moments that once would have been gone forever in a blink are now memorialized with a click on a greater scale than ever before. But capturing these fleeting moments successfully often depends upon more than just having a camera or cell phone on hand at the right time.
This year's images expose the power of creativity, patience and anticipation of unexpected moments — like when a burrowing owl came out of hiding or a girl's shadow from the playground swing above briefly crossed paths with her abandoned flip-flops.
For the third consecutive year, the Palo Alto Weekly and Palo Alto Art Center have teamed up to bring exposure to a variety of works from Midpeninsula photographers through the Peninsula Photo Contest.
This year's competition was open to anyone who works, lives or attends school in or near the 650 area code, from Daly City to Sunnyvale.
The categories include Abstract, Moments, the Natural World, Portraits and Travel, as well as the new Humor category, which challenged photographers to find and capture the humorous element in situations, objects, people and animals. The judges reviewed more than 745 images submitted by 158 adult and youth photographers.
Each of this year's 12 winning images captures life and everyday objects from a unique perspective — from a boy engrossed in a bedtime story to a girl collecting laundry in the streets of Mykonos.
These depictions of everyday scenes seem especially powerful during these not-so-normal times, triggering unexpected joy and the contemplation of lost normalcy. The winning photographs were announced at a virtual awards ceremony, which can be viewed here.
The images will be on display, along with 13 honorable-mention images, in a fall exhibition from Sept. 12 to Nov. 15 at the Palo Alto Art Center, 1313 Newell Road. Read on to learn more about the photographers and the ideas and feelings they hoped to convey through their work. — Linda Taaffe
Adult winner: Ken Fowkes for "Pondside"
Ken Fowkes, 61, is a retired software developer who grew up in Palo Alto and now lives in Mountain View. He enjoys blending his passions for dance and photography by wiggling his camera around while the shutter is open. "Pondside" was taken with a quick upward flick of a long lens. "Details are erased, inviting us to explore the scene through color, shape and texture," Fowkes said.
Judge's comments: "Pondside" is a fresh and inventive interpretation of a scene that has possibly been seen by countless eyes. The forced movement of the vertical play against the natural horizontal pattern is executed brilliantly, and the uneven pattern of the darker, wood-like lines adds a visual tension that allows the mind's eye to resolve the scene, thus including the viewer in the artistic process.
— Don Feria
Youth winner: Emma Sloan for "Unfold"
Emma Sloan, 17, is a Gunn High School student who lives in Palo Alto. She loves photography because it can be used to provide new meaning and perspective to subjects.
For "Unfold," she shot the folds of her bedsheets in the morning sunlight using a 35 mm black-and-white film camera. "I love 'Unfold' for its simplicity and for the softness of its lines and shadows. It captures one of the many marks a person leaves behind as they move on with each day," Sloan said.
Judge's comments: "Unfold" takes the viewer through what can be considered a mundane everyday experience and appreciates the visual beauty of what most of us usually pass over. The image displays a strong understanding and interpretation of one of the core fundamentals of photography — light and shadow, and the interplay between the two, understanding that one cannot function without the other.
— Don Feria
Adult winner: Dan Fenstermacher for "Is Life Worth Living?"
Dan Fenstermacher, 35, is a photography teacher at West Valley College and the Community School of Music and Arts, who recently moved from Menlo Park to San Jose. "I love the feeling of creative energy while I am photographing," Fenstermacher said. He used a handheld off-camera flash to create the look and aesthetic of the image, which balances the gesture of the women with the prominent words in the photograph.
Judge's comments: "Is Life Worth Living? " frames the whimsy of the city street among the everyday activities that we so often pass by as we go about our lives. It's a wonderful celebration of a split-second moment that happens on the streets of any major city.
— Don Feria
Youth Winner: Neel Fulton for "Smiley Camel"
Neel Fulton, 17, is a Palo Alto High School student who enjoys using photography to document memorable moments, including this one from a recent trip to Abu Dhabi. "'Smiley Camel' portrays the warm and friendly spirit of the camels in the Abu Dhabi desert and demonstrates how even a camel can enjoy posing for a photo," Fulton said.
Judge's comments: "Smiley Camel" is a funny image that immediately brought smiles to our faces when we saw it. The camel seems to be posing, as though offering us its best side, but its face is so imposing that it almost resembles a photo-bomb. The scale between the camel and tourist creates an ironic image that seems to exaggerate the camel's friendly and amusing personality.
— Federica Armstrong
Adult winner: Deborah Lord for "Summertime"
Deborah Lord, 42, is a Mountain View resident who enjoys using photography to capture stories and beauty all around her. Lord said "Summertime" was inspired by a girl's carefree spirit on the swings. "Her shadow best captured that spirit, simplifying her wind-strewn hair and welcome wide-open stance. Lying next to her shadow, abandoned flip-flops. This image feels like summertime to me," Lord said.
Judge's comments: "Summertime" is a simple and balanced image that includes just three elements: the shadow of a child on a swing, a colorful pair of flip-flops and the monotone ground covered with wood chips. The three elements come together in a subtle and creative way, leaving it up to our imagination to envision the rest of the scene.
— Federica Armstrong
Youth winner: Alison Soong for "Before the Rain"
Alison Soong, 15, is a freshman at Crystal Springs Uplands High School, who grew up in San Francisco. She enjoys capturing the "smallest of moments in everyday life" through photography. "Before the Rain" was taken during a school field trip to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. "This photograph aims to capture the sense of wonder that was displayed in a woman's face as she continued to look up at the darkening sky," Soong said.
Judge's comments: "Before the Rain" is a very subtle image. The scale of the photo creates an interesting contrast between the city skyline in the background and the rather small figures slightly off center in the image. The angular architecture gives depth and movement to the frame, while the subtle moment of one figure looking up to assess the sky is both understated and graceful. All the elements of the image are balanced.
— Federica Armstrong
Adult winner: Geoffrey Brooks for "Burrowing Owl on Frosty Morning"
Geoffrey Brooks has traveled the world photographing nature's obscure details. He photographed this particular burrowing owl on an unusually cold winter morning in western Florida. "As the sun rose and hit the chilly ground for the first time, steam began rising around the owl and cloaked the whole scene in a beautiful golden light," Brooks said.
Judge's comments: "Burrowing Owl on Frosty Morning" is not only a beautifully crafted image but is also a fantastic glimpse into the natural world we never see in our day-to-day lives. This image jumped out as unique, thoughtful and poetic. Capturing this image with the golden shaft of light running across the frame and giving the owl a halo was almost too perfect.
— John Todd
Youth winner: Victor Wan for "Sand Falls"
Victor Wan, 16, is a high school student who lives in Palo Alto. He has been experimenting with different photography techniques and styles since he was 11. He captured this image while walking through Arizona's Upper Antelope Canyon. "Our tour guide picked up some sand, threw it on top of a ledge, and I captured the stunning slow falling of the bright, smooth sand," Wan said.
Judge's comments: "Sand Falls" is a wonderful study of light, shadow, movement and color. The judges were impressed by the photographer's use of motion to create visual movement within the image. The image is balanced perfectly and the dark areas of the top of the image help focus the viewer's eye on the moving sand. The well-framed stick at the middle left of the photograph reminds us that the world is organic, yet constantly changing.
— John Todd
Adult winner: Sharon Kenney for "The Book Worm"
Sharon Kenney is a family and event photographer from Mountain View who has been taking photos of local families for more than eight years. She took this photo of her 4-year-old son on a typical summer evening before bedtime. "The image captures an ordinary, everyday moment, but it is full of small details that show exactly what I want to remember about what he was like at this age," Kenney said.
Judge's comments: "The Book Worm" is a quiet and powerful moment that plays out nightly in our homes. Images such as this remind us that great photography can be everywhere, and it's the job of the photographer to discover and share these moments. For just a moment, we are invited into a child's world, and we become lost in his story book.
— John Todd
Youth winner: Manisha Khakoo for "Bright Eyes"
Manisha Khakoo, 16, is a sophomore at Woodside Priory School who lives in Woodside. She captured "Bright Eyes" by playing with the way the grassy shadows fell on her cousin's face and the way the sunlight illuminated her eyes. "I'm really happy with the result that I produced, especially the emphasis on beauty and nature and the intense engagement in this photograph," Khakoo said.
Judge's comments: "Bright Eyes" stands out for two reasons: First, the play between light and shadow on the subject brings texture to an element of the photograph that the viewer might not expect to see. Second, the bright green and red create a striking contrast and define the two main subjects of the photo: a human and nature. The color of the subject's eyes also happen to be a happy medium between that green and red and draw in the viewer with what feels like direct eye contact.
— Magali Gauthier
Adult winner | Best in Show: Teri Vershel for "Laundry Day"
Teri Vershel is a former tech-worker who lives in Palo Alto and has spent the past five years as a street photographer capturing life as it unfolds. She happened upon this domestic scene while in Mykonos, Greece. "'Laundry Day' is a perfect example of why I love shooting on the street. You just never know what you're going to encounter," Vershel said.
Judge's comments: "Laundry Day" is an image we can all relate to, and that's what makes it a good photograph. The viewer is drawn in by the simple act of the subject in the top of the frame dropping a piece of laundry to the woman below. It's a human moment. It's about working together. It's also about taking pleasure in the small things — the woman at the bottom seems to be smiling.
— Magali Gauthier
Youth winner: Victor Wan for "The Egyptian Mosque"
Victor Wan's tour group had just finished visiting the Mosque Madrassa of Sultan Hassan in Cairo, Egypt, when he captured this image. "While walking away from the mosque, I turned my head and between the two walls of the mosque was a stunning, hazy silhouette of the Saladin Citadel," Wan said. (See Wan's full biography under "Natural World, Youth Winner. ")
Judge's comments: "The Egyptian Mosque" immediately draws the viewer to the mosque. It's the first thing the viewer sees upon the first, second and even third time of looking at the image. This is thanks to the striking lighting and centered composition. This image is an example of using elements that are already present to capture a known landmark in a unique way.
— Magali Gauthier
Federica Armstrong is an editorial and commercial photographer working with many nonprofit organizations in the Bay Area. Her skills include traditional documentary photography, environmental portraiture and event photography. She is the founder of the Palo Alto Photography Forum, a lecture series that features prominent photographers and promotes conversations on current issues through visual storytelling. Armstrong's latest project, "In Plain Site," which focuses on Silicon Valley Superfund Sites, was published in the New York Times Lens Blog in 2018.
John Freeman Todd
John Freeman Todd has been a professional photographer for more than 25 years. Since 1996, he has been the team photographer for Major League Soccer's San Jose Earthquakes. He also owns International Sports Images (isiphotos.com), the official photography supplier to the U.S. Men and Women's soccer teams, Stanford Athletics and the former Maverick's Big Wave Surfing contest. You can see his work on his website: johntodd.com.
Don Feria is an independent editorial and commercial photographer based in the Bay Area. With beginnings in culinary school in 1996, he adjusted his focus after seeing his first black-and-white image appear in the darkroom developer. His work has been commissioned for Nike, Forbes magazine, Fortune, Stanford University, Tesla, Apple, REI, the Discovery Channel and Kaiser Permanente. You can see his work at donferia.com.
Magali Gauthier covers the Bay Area as the chief visual journalist for Palo Alto Weekly, Mountain View Voice and The Almanac. She received her master's degree in journalism from the University of Southern California, where she focused on visual journalism through video, photography, interactive web pages and social media. Her work has been recognized by the California Newspaper Publishers Association.
Thank you to our Peninsula Photo Contest sponsors: The Palo Alto Weekly, Palo Alto Online, Palo Alto Art Center, The Six Fifty and Palo Alto Photo Forum sponsored this year's Peninsula Photo Contest. The Best In Show winner was awarded $500; adult winners were awarded $200 each; and youth winners were awarded $100 each. All winners and honorable mentions received memberships at the Palo Alto Art Center.