The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

“A year like no other.” That term became overdone sometime around April and now we find ourselves at the 2020 finish line. What a slog.  They say that you hit the wall in a marathon at around mile 21 of the 26. If 2020 was a marathon, and it certainly seems that it was, we started hitting the wall somewhere around mile 5. We’re finally about finished.

My last piece was an overly long review of the COVID year.  It wasn’t exactly a positive piece.  This post is a look back on the year through my camera lens. Seemed like an easy thing when I first hatched the idea but I’ve been puzzling over how to approach it. I was going to start with month by month but a review of images revealed that some months were less than inspiring. Okay then – by subject? By season? Favorites? Monochrome v. color? I guess I’ll settle on haphazard.

Some of the photos have already been published, while others are making their debut.

San Francisco, just a short drive away, is one of my favorite places.  As I started browsing month by month a simple image of a cable car touched my heart. There’s nothing really special about this image except that it reminds me of The City in good times.

A cable car blurs up Powell St.

“For the birds” idiom. Worthless, not to be taken seriously, no good.

To say that 2020 was “for the birds,” is an understatement. In honor of a “for the birds” 2020 we present three images.

Here in Hercules we have a small pond that’s home to ducks and egrets.  Is this duck looking at something in the water, contemplating it’s feet or just nodding off?   

Why is it that egrets always look angry?  Maybe this one was just upset with 2020.   

While visiting Morro Bay in October, Cora and I visited a wetland. As soon as we hit the trail we came upon a tree that was filled with vultures.  This vulture looks both stodgy and foreboding.  But isn’t that what vultures are supposed to look like?   

North Beach, San Francisco.
One of my favorite S.F districts is The City’s, Little Italy, a place that I often visit for photos, food and ambience. If the weather is even marginally good, al fresco dining is almost required in North Beach. The photo below was taken before the lunchtime rush at Calzone’s Restaurant.             

Poking around the alleys of San Francisco presents hundreds of photo opportunities. There’s nothing really distinctive about this alley other than catching my photographic eye.

For years I’ve been captivated by the Sentinel Building but never knew a thing about it; never photographed it, until this year. This flatiron building was started in 1906, survived the earthquake and was completed in 1907. The building has been home to corrupt politicians, restaurants, a Prohibition Era speakeasy and a nightclub. It was purchased by The Kingston Trio in 1960. The famed folk group installed a recording studio in the building that was used by other musicians including The Grateful Dead. Today the building belongs to Francis Ford Coppola to house the headquarters of his Zoetrope Studios. A number of films, including Godfather II and III, Apocalypse Now, The Conversation, One From The Heart, The Outsiders, and Dracula were written, edited, or sound mixed in this building. On the ground floor is The Zoetrope Café.  I took a number of photos of The Sentinel Building and particularly liked one looking straight up at the turret. I edited this image with an oil painting filter. 

Current events.
COVID-19 wasn’t the only issue to dominate the news during the past year. Social justice and politics held our attention in 2020. The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other African-Americans sparked worldwide protests and violence. In an area that is known for speaking out against injustice, local muralists went to work to lend their artistic voices through their work.
In June, I visited downtown Oakland to photograph some of the many murals depicting injustice, indifference and the struggle for justice.

One afternoon Cora and I visited San Francisco’s Mission District, home to The City’s Latinx community. The neighborhood is ablaze with murals, many of them political and social in nature. 

Landscapes are a longtime favorite. Maybe because they’re relatively easy. The land doesn’t fidget (unless we’re having one of our Bay Area earthquakes), it doesn’t complain and, unless the sky isn’t cooperating, land usually affords plenty of time to noodle around with equipment, get set up, get the lighting right, focus and shoot. And it’s universally popular with viewers.

I got very lucky with the autumn scene below. We were driving to Lake Tahoe and after seeing some possible shots along the course of the American River I decided to stop at a turnout to check for an opportunity.     

Our Airbnb home at Tahoe afforded a spectacular panorama of the lake, a view enhanced by an overnight snowfall.

Mount Tallac & morning clouds.

Sunset @ Lake Tahoe

In October, Cora and I took a trip to Morro Bay and I reacquainted myself with the sea. Since that little trip I’ve returned often to the coast to enjoy the air, the smells, the sights and the photo opportunities of the Pacific Coast.

Moonstone Beach, Cambria, California. A wave explodes in a 1/10th of a second exposure.

When big wave days are forecast I head for the coast to catch the power of the sea.

Rockaway Beach, Pacifica, California at 1/8th of a second.

There was that big wave (up to 25 feet) day at Gray Whale Cove when I almost got myself and my gear swamped. Note the calm sea birds behind the wave oblivious to the watery violence.

Gray Whale Cove, Montara, CA.

The ever changing subject. One second the shot is perfect and the next it’s gone, never to be repeated.

San Pablo Bay sunset

Vineyard sunset, Drytown, California

The others
There were some images that were particular favorites on social media.

Red leaves on a snowy white field

A foggy morning on Morro Bay.

Morning rain drops adorn an aloe fire chief flower.

There’s really nothing spectacular about the photo of the young woman wading out into the Pacifica surf.  That is unless you grew up listening to the Beach Boys. I was sitting in the sand just watching waves and surfers when I saw this young woman wade into the surf. For this child of the sixties, a blonde woman with a board, wading into the surf spoke to me of bygone days and pure classic California.

November in Pacifica, CA.

Wishing everyone a safe and happy New Year.

9 thoughts on “2020 – A Year in Images

  1. I really love the Moonstone Beach wave!!!!!

    1. Paulie says:

      Thank you. That little trip was the first time that I tried photographing waves with a slow shutter speed. Thank you for visiting and commenting. Have a happy new year.

  2. Hi. Have you heard of a novel titled Sourdough? I just read it. Liked it a lot. It’s fanciful. I bring this up because it is set in San Fran and Alameda Island. The author is Robin Sloan.

    1. Paulie says:

      I’ve not heard of it, but your comment inspired me to look it up on Amazon. I like to read books set in SF. One of the reasons that I particularly liked Amy Tan’s books.

  3. You have some very lovely photos here, simply fantastic nature photos. Best wishes to you and your family for 2021!
    …I’ve just got to try more creative beach wave photos, yours are awesome! (first I need to find me some beach waves…)

    1. Paulie says:

      Thank you so much Lisa. I have a LOT of dud wave photos. I should do a blooper post. The wave shots in this post were all shot with the camera on a tripod and using a cable release, given the slow shutter speed. The problem that can happen with the slower shutter speed is washed out photos (I have tons of those). I’m actually relying on the tripod more and more for photos than in past years. Hands are less steady with age and the camera can be unforgiving.
      Wishing you a wonderful 2021.

      1. Thank you, best wishes for you as well. I need to start making more use of my tripod!

  4. eden baylee says:

    Hi Paul,

    You take some beautiful pictures. The landscapes and skies are amazing of course, but I think my favourite is the outdoor restaurant shot. Though the colours are vibrant and enticing, there is a quietness to it that captures this crazy year. The empty seats beckon but the streets are empty. It’s an invitation to dine when we cannot dine like we used to. The tables are too close together, and we’ve been living a very different existence for the last ten months.

    Can we return to this? A time of sitting next to strangers, chatting sans masks, and drinking a glass of wine — carefree, while watching the world go by?

    I hope so.

    I’m still reading your last post. It’s heavy but I like it, just a lot to absorb.

    Sending the best to you and your family,


    1. Paulie says:

      Thank you for the kind words Eden. The photo of the tables was of course taken before COVID came crashing down. I was in The City the last two days and drove past that restaurant. The tables are gone, victims of the current ban on outdoor dining.
      The essence of North Beach, our Little Italy, is al fresco dining and to answer your question, yes we can go back to those days. We MUST go back to those days. And while it’s an economic thing it isn’t an economic thing. If the past ten months has taught us anything it’s that we’ve taken the human connection for granted. Now that’s what we crave most – at least those of us who have a modicum of humanity about us.
      Even during my darkest moods I never have accepted the idea that life would change forever; that a football stadium (hockey for you?) would be 25% full, that we couldn’t go to dinner and a show or see an art exhibit. I never believed that we would never exchange hugs or handshakes or that offices would shutter and give way to remote work.
      In Wuhan they celebrated the New Year this year and will celebrate the Year of the Ox in a few weeks as they have every year. Our Chinatown will be dark this year but it will rebound. It’s going to take some time for us to get it right but we’ll get there.
      Best Wishes

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