A Look Back at 2017

Here is a somewhat belated personal reflection on my photography in 2017 viewed through 12 photographs.  As in previous years, these are simply some favorite images from the year presented in chronological order.

1.  Vireo again:  The Abandoned Train Station

The abandoned 16th Street Station in Oakland, CA became a surreal circus venue.

In January I once again had the opportunity to serve as the still photographer for the filming of episodes of the serialized opera Vireo:  The Spiritual Biography of a Witch's Accuser.  (My blog post about this adventure tells the full story.)  Most of the action was filmed in the abandoned 16th Street Station in Oakland, CA, which was converted into surreal circus venue for the climactic eleventh episode of the opera.  This image captures both the station itself and the large assembly actors, singers, orchestra, and participating audience that filled the room.

2.  Vireo:  Deborah Voigt, the "Queen of Sweden"

The "Queen of Sweden" (Deborah Voigt) among the snowflakes (San Francisco Girls Chorus).

Near the end of Episode 11 the Queen of Sweden (Metropolitan Opera star Deborah Voigt) makes a dramatic entrance.  This photo catches her interaction with young members of the San Francisco Girls Chorus as she moves to center stage.

3.  Vireo:  Escape in a Red Valiant


Caroline (Emma MacKenzie) and Vireo (Rowen Sabala) in the red Valiant.

Much of Episode 10 takes place during an escape through the snow to Sweden in a red 1962 Plymouth Valiant sedan.  For the shoot the car was located inside a white-wall studio, and of course the video crew had all the best camera angles and sight lines.  I was struggling to get decent images while shooting through the car windows until I remembered my circular polarizing filter, which allowed me to get unique shots with minimal glare.  This image has been widely used in publicity for and articles about the opera.

4.  New Zealand:  Mt. Sefton

Mt. Sefton, Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park, New Zealand

We spent the month of February on a magical trip across the South and North Islands of New Zealand.  Carol and I traveled with our son Dru, daughter-in-law Shannon, and our close friend Karen.  Karen has visited New Zealand many times over the past 20+ years; she and served as our tour guide, introducing us to "real Kiwis" and places that many tourists do not see.

It was much more of a family trip than a photography trip, but it still yielded a wealth of photographic opportunities.  This photograph is from one of my favorite locations, Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park on the South Island.  We had this view of Mt. Sefton (just around the corner from Mt. Cook) from our apartment window.  I have a number of photographs taken here, including some colorful sunsets, but this image captures for me the beauty and grandeur of that landscape.  Plus, the clouds were amazing!

5.  New Zealand:  Te Mata View

The view from Te Mata Peak.

We encountered adverse weather only once, while visiting in Napier after our arrival on the North Island.  Nevertheless we made the steep drive up Te Mata Peak and were rewarded with this view, made more dramatic by the breaking storm clouds and the touches of sunlight on the sculpted hills.  In many ways, this landscape reminded me of my native northern California.

6.  New Zealand:  Mud Cauldron

A mud cauldron at the Wai-O-Tapu geothermal area, New Zealand

Much of New Zealand is one big volcano.  Wai-O-Tapu, an extensive geothermal area with geysers, colorful thermal pools, and mud pots, reminded me of Yellowstone National Park.  I was mesmerized by this bubbling and burping mud pool -- in the end I decided that it made the most sense as an ethereal black and white image.

7.  New Zealand:  Pohutukawa Sunrise

Sunrise through a pohutukawa tree at Simpson's Beach, New Zealand.

The pohutukawa, or "New Zealand Christmas Tree," is an icon of New Zealand.  In February we were mostly too late to see the beautiful red flowers, but the gnarled and weatherbeaten shapes of the trees give them a distinctive majesty.  This photograph, one of the last ones I took in New Zealand, captures for me the essence of New Zealand coastal scenery.

8.  Valley of the Gods

Valley of the Gods, Bears Ears National Monument, UT

We spent a week in early May among a group of Nikon shooters photographing in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and Bears Ears National Monument.  Many of my favorites from that trip, including this one, wound up processed as black and white images.  For this photograph the black and white approach enhances the austerity and majesty of the landscape and highlights the wonderful cloud formation.

9.  Double Arch

Double Arch, Arches National Park, UT.

This is another black and white favorite from the Utah trip.  I had to wait a long time for the horde of selfie-takers to vacate the base of arch!  I was initally not very happy with the color version of this image, taken in very harsh light with a featureless blue sky.  However I recently gave it another chance in black and white.  The result is completely different and much more satisfying, to the point that it climbed right up into the "Best of 2017" list.

10.  Letchworth Sunrise

Sunrise at Letchworth State Park, NY.

One of my goals for 2017 was to get out more often to shoot local subjects.  This photograph is the result of one such effort, a short camping trip in September at Letchworth State Park, the "Grand Canyon of the Genesee River" south of Rochester, NY. I photographed the sunrise at this location on two consecutive mornings.  The first morning proved to be more of a scouting trip, allowing me to find the desired location in relation to the rising sun.  In this image, taken the second morning, everything came together with the rising sun above the river of low fog in the valley. 

11.  The Cloister

We spent a bit more than a week in late September visiting friends who had rented an apartment in Paris for two months.  For part of that time we traveled with them to Provence, touring the back roads by rental car.  This photograph of the cloister at the Abbaye de Senanque is my clear favorite from the entire trip.  I envisioned the final black and white image as I pressed the shutter button.

12.  Zen Reflection

Autumn reflection, Taughannock Falls State Park, NY.

The final image in this annual retrospective is from one of my favorite local spots, Taughannock Falls State Park near Ithaca, NY.  On this late fall day I was hoping to find reflections of sun-lit fall foliage in the quiet, shady water of the creek.  It was not a great year for fall color in our region, so there was not much to work with.  However, when I saw the juxtaposition of these rocks and the reflected color I knew I had found my subject.  Thirty seconds after I took this photograph the wind came up and the reflection disappeared.