Welcome to this year’s installment of my ongoing series of the top then photographs of the past year. Ever since a certain Martin Bailey nudged me to start this habit, I have been keeping it up, enduring and enjoying its pains and joys. Pains because not including some of your favorite photographs in the final collection can be a callous decision. Joys, because you can use the criteria you inevitably develop in the process while shooting in the field, making the process of selecting the top ten a rewarding learning experience. Furthermore, looking at the final top ten gives you this warm and fuzzy feeling of pride and achievement.
It’s hip to be square – even in the top ten
There are only square images in this year’s collection for the first time ever. Over the last five years or so, I have been drawn further and further towards this format, even when I was shooting subject matter that, at first sight and thought, lends itself more towards landscape or portrait orientation. I love the challenge this tension brings into the process of composition. It forces me to think more and rely less on my gut feeling – something that benefits the first photograph of this year’s top ten.
This image is all about the thoughtful use of a strong leading line. Here, it zigzags through the frame, taking the viewer’s eye with it. Starting at the bottom, it moves upwards, bouncing off the frame on the left and off a small tree on the right, before it passes the baton on to the edge of the small lake. From there, the line moves farther upwards until it reaches the dark diagonal tree with its thin twigs at the top of the frame. On this way, the viewer can appreciate a diverse set of detail: the rough structure of the untouched snow surface, the dark texture of the fallen tree, the frozen water of the lake with its subtle speckles of snow, and, finally, the hanging twigs. Enjoy!
Ice Entity #21
This is an image of the second part of my Ice Entities series. Initially, I was drawn to the striking line that cuts through the ice, dividing it into a dark and a grey part, and, of course, the enormous splash of snow, probably created by a snowball.
I found all that striking enough to justify a photograph. To my joy and surprise, however, back at home, I discovered the shape of a skull in the middle of the snow, which only required very little supportive dodging and burning to become more prominent.
Rhine Bridge Wesel #8
This image is an excellent example of how the supportive actor can make all the difference. While the photo clearly is all about this iconic illuminated bridge with its strong lines converging on the right, the image wouldn’t work half as well without the clouds in the sky. They provide not only a good deal of depth but also an extra bit of storytelling: The night is not quite there, but it draws near. What a difference some mood makes…
This classic animal portrait made it into the final selection not only for its technical qualities like sharpness, composition, expression, and so forth, but also for the circumstances I faced while shooting. I had to photograph this cat through the thick compound glass of a zoo’s enclosure which always messes with the focus unless you shoot through it at a 90° angle. So, for this image to work, the Lynx had to lay down at the exact correct position, which it rarely ever does. But it did when I happened to be there. This makes this shot a photograph I will probably never be able to reproduce.
I had been waiting to photography a peacock like this for years before it finally happened in March ’21. Back at home, I faced the challenge of dealing with the image in black and white, although the subject matter is predominantly defined by its color. So I came up with the idea of accentuating the spots in the feathers, making them resemble eyes that are staring back at the viewer. Also, I am thrilled with how the contrasty processing makes the photo look like a pencil drawing. My wife doesn’t like this photo. She thinks it is too intense. However, I believe that this is precisely what makes the image unique and justifies its inclusion in the top ten.
Some photos are special – and you know it when you press the shutter button. This is one of them, at least to me. I can’t even say why, but I knew immediately, right then and there in the field, that this photo would end up in the top ten at the end of the year. Maybe it is because it encapsulates a feeling more than it shows the look of the landscape: The sense of openness, silence, emptiness, loneliness – but also promise, opportunity, and freedom. I can’t look at this image without hearing the sound of the waves, feeling the cool early-morning breeze, and hearing the cries of distant seagulls. And I am at peace.
On FlickR, this photo received a comment expressing that it is reminiscent of the work of Michael Kenna. I couldn’t think of a more lovely compliment.
This is another instant favorite that I knew would end up on this list right away. I even went to this spot twice because some camera shake had rendered the image unsharp on the first day. I got it right on the second day, though.
I admit that a decaying leaf on a dark surface probably isn’t very high on most people’s list of worthy and beautiful subjects. However, all the detail and contrast make it a perfect subject for a black&white photograph. What justifies this photo’s inclusion on this list is how it looks printed on Hahnemühle Museum Etching paper. The rough texture of this paper makes all these details pop and look and feel almost threedimensional. I only regret that I cannot reproduce the experience of feeling and seeing the print here on screen for you.
Trivago Campus #2
I included this image because it (to some degree) successfully reminisces the visual style of Joel Tjintellar’s architecture photography with its bold compositions and lush gradients. So, if you think this is an homage to his exceptional work, then you are very right.
Considering how much I enjoy looking at and shooting architecture photography, I do it surprisingly seldom. Before this shoot in October ’21, I hadn’t photographed architecture for 1.5 years. I should and will do it more often. Consider this a new year’s resolution.
Conclusion – where is your Top Ten?
So, this is it, my top ten photographs of 2021. If you have put together a similar collection and posted it somewhere, please post a link in the comments below. I’ll be happy to look at and be inspired by it.
Thank you for coming here and staying with me so far. I appreciate it beyond words. All the best for you and your loved ones in the holidays and all of 2022. For many, these are challenging times, even without the problems populistic madmen and stubbornly stupid science deniers add to the mix of the burdens and difficulties we already face. So please, stay safe, remain calm, and help others. We have a responsibility to lift each other up, motivate, and inspire each other in life and in our creative work. See you around next year.