Top Photos of 2021

“Those of us who survived, are now through the 2nd year of this pandemic.”

That sentence sounds like the introduction to a post apocalyptic story, and something that while not completely unexpected in my lifetime, still has a rawness to it, and an anger to it because of how the world has handled things.  Our distraction with political authoritarianism across the world, and an obsession with individual rights over that of society has made this far worse than it otherwise would in a healthy global society.  We are now looking at over 800,000 Americans are dead from COVID, with over 5.4 million dead worldwide, and we are far from over with this pandemic.  If you had told me that these would be the numbers back in the first week of March 2020 when I shut the lab down to protect everyone in it, I would have been gobsmacked.  I really thought that the world would have been more responsible and handled this better.  Though I did not account for bad actors and deliberate disinformation.

While the pandemic has raged on through the 2nd year with new variants that appear far more infectious, the good news is that the omicron variant does not seem to as aggressively infect lung epithelia. On top of that, the rapid infection that omicron exhibits, appears to burn through vulnerable and non-vaccinated people much faster if the S. African data is correct.  So, perhaps by the end of 2022, things will start to normalize.

I am hoping for a more normal 2022 for many reasons.  I have a number of irons in the fire, most of them I can’t really talk about yet, so we’ll see what turns out for the year.  But I am also hoping for a bit more time for photography this year.  2021 photographically speaking, reflected a world that has collapsed many opportunities, and gotten smaller yet again, for the 2nd year in a row.  Sorting through my top images of 2021 was a bit easier this year as this is the smallest number of photographs that  I’ve had to go through to determine my favorites for the year in a long time.  I’ve not gone *anywhere* this year, and with the burden of running a lab, trying to maintain funding and productivity, deal with new HR and staffing issues, equipment maintenance issues, new bureaucracy in the form of IT policies, HR policies, purchasing policies, reporting policies, trying to schedule and coordinate large meetings, failed servers, all in the 2nd year of a pandemic, has been exhausting. Part of me wanted just to go out into the streets and document this unusual time in life, taking the opportunity to document a world in flux.  But work was simply all consuming, leaving very little time for cameras in hand.  That said, the following images are my favorites for the year…


Camera: Apple iPhone 12 Pro
Exposure: 1/23
Aperture: f/2
Focal Length: 52mm equivalent
ISO: 500

In January, I had a chance to spend some time in the COVID Medical Intensive Care Unit at the University of Utah Health Sciences to help illustrate the environment that our medical professionals are working in, taking care of people who have contracted COVID and are battling for their lives.  The hope was to document both the reality of COVID, and the people that are putting their lives on the line to help care for those with COVID.


Camera: Leica M9
Exposure: 1/3000
Aperture: f/2
Focal Length: 35mm
ISO: 800

There were some moments, just after we were first fully vaccinated that we thought things might start returning to normal earlier this year. Moments where we could start to meet without masks and Fatima @neurofim and I could go for coffee.  Alas, that was short lived as people resisted getting vaccinations, and here at the end of the 2nd year of the pandemic, and a full year after vaccines became available, Utah is just 58% fully vaccinated against COVID.


Camera: Apple iPhone 12 Pro
Exposure: 1/1089
Aperture: f/2.4
Focal Length: 14mm equivalent
ISO: 25

More photos in my favorite list of the year were made with an iPhone as the cameras in those devices, as well as the computational processing of images from those devices has gotten better and better.  This was an image made on my bicycle, just after dropping by the drive through teller at my local bank.  I love the abstract quality of it, as well as the dynamic range from blackest black, to seeing the clouds in-between the slats, looking up.


Camera: Leica Monochrom
Exposure: 1/45
Aperture: f/2
Focal Length: 50mm
ISO: 320

As vaccines rolled out, we got more comfortable for a short while, and my friend and colleague, Masaaki Kuwajima @PhotonCorral dropped by the lab while he was in town from Texas to talk science, photography, ultrastructure, and to grab lunch. This was a rare treat during the pandemic to visit with people, and the in person time was incredibly precious to me.


Camera: Fuji X-T1 IR + Kolari Vision IR Chrome Lens Filter
Exposure: 1/280
Aperture: f/6
Focal Length: 12mm (18mm equivalent)
ISO: 200

The pandemic has created an incredible cabin fever in me, and our only excursions take advantage of the incredible outdoors that we have here in Utah. At the height of summer, we went for a combined bike and run in the Wasatch range behind us.  This trip I brought along an infrared converted camera to take advantage of all the foliage.


Camera: Leica SL
Exposure: 1/250
Aperture: f/1.5
Focal Length: 85mm
ISO: 1,000

One advantage of this pandemic has been that I’ve not traveled quite as much (not at all) for the last couple of years.  So, H and I have more time together for routine things like coffee.  I love this time to sit down and talk, decompress, and talk things out in our professional lives that are hard to discuss with anyone else.  This image was also first light with the only piece of camera equipment I’ve bought in two years, a Helios 40-2 85MM f/1.5 lens, with weird optical properties, light fall off, swirly bokeh, and worst of all, it is soft. However, for all these reasons, this lens has character and I’m loving the images out of it.


Camera: Apple iPhone 13 Pro
Exposure: 1/60
Aperture: f/1.5
Focal Length: 26mm equivalent
ISO: 80

H and I had an agreement when we got married that when it came time for my mid-life crisis, I could not have an affair, but I could get a Porsche.  This year I informed her that it was time for my mid-life crisis, and in January I set out in search of a Porsche.  I had always had my heart set on a mid-70s or 80s air-cooled 911 as they were affordable and easy to work on.  But those prices, especially this year have gone insane.  $40k to $50k for cars with tons of rust and needing lots of work was not unheard of.  So, for a scientist and university professor, the affordable Porsche became a used 2006 Cayman that I found in San Francisco.  The car had been tracked and needed lots of work, but the body was perfect, and the price was 1/3 the cost of a new Honda Civic. The ideal situation would have been to fly out and drive it back, but with the pandemic, I had it shipped, and now it is mine.


Camera: Leica SL
Exposure: 1/250
Aperture: f/1.5
Focal Length: 85mm
ISO: 2,000

Our cats, Ellie here and Alice below have been an incredible source of delight.  Ellie is the goofball of the household who likes to hang out with me in the mornings when I read or work in the home office.  Here she is captured with that weird Helios lens, hanging out and being cute.


Camera: Apple iPhone 12 Pro
Exposure: 1/118
Aperture: f/1.6
Focal Length: 26mm equivalent
ISO: 125

Alice is the slightly more aloof, but incredibly true, and most definitely the cat with the big feelings in the household.  She is always concerned when people are upset and comes around to make sure people are OK.  And while both Ellie and Alice are quite vocal, Alice makes sure that she is heard.  I love seeing them, every time I walk in the door.

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