May 26, 2022

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Alta Journal’s Top Photography of 2021

Alta Journal’s 2021 photographers captured moments from forests, airplane runways, city streets, and hikes through volcanic rocks. Their photos preserve events that will live in our minds forever and expressions that disappear as quickly as lightning strikes. Here, several Alta photographers reflect on what was going on behind the camera the moment they took their photo.


Craig Lee

CRAIG LEE, ”A YEAR LIKE NO OTHER

craig lee

Craig Lee

“My background is photojournalism, and that is how I started my career. I do love portraiture and lighting, which is something I learned along the way. For me, nothing beats capturing photojournalistic storytelling moments that are real. They capture the emotions of people in the moment. Many of these images become historical as they mark a time and place that will never happen again. I can feel it when I have captured a moment, and that it is very satisfying to me.”


paul kuroda, glass fire, napa, tylor yadon

Paul Kuroda

PAUL KURODA, “A YEAR LIKE NO OTHER

paul kuroda

Paul Kuroda

“The winds were down for the night, which is typical. I saw a couple of the engines in a vineyard and wondered if my van could make it up the hill in the sand. I tested it first and it was fine, so I backed up the road, making sure to leave ample room for engines to get by, and parked facing down so I won’t get stuck, an ABC of covering wildfires. I spent time with a young Hispanic firefighter, and we discussed many things, including what his plans were for his future. I also remarked how no firefighter wears breathing masks, as smoke is a known carcinogen, and if he’ll wear one if he had one. He told me he would. Then he told me of other engines down the road. I didn’t see them due to the blackness of the moon blocked by smoke. I hiked over in stillness past an engine and saw the men sleeping in the vineyard. I thought, This image is perfect. I slowly and quietly backed behind the engine to set a camera up for this shot, ISO and shutter, aperture wide open at f1.4. Without a sound, I peered around the engine and braced the camera on the side, as the only light was from another engine and it was very dim. I silently shot before quickly fireman Tylor Yadon seemed to have felt my presence and sat up. I had my moment. They were working a 36-hour shift and resting as the flames were down. Before I left the scene, I picked up an extra 3M respirator from my van and gave it to the young fireman.”


ronnie stewart, ec scott, terrible tom bowden, and lee ashford, esther’s orbit room, oakland

Jason Henry

JASON HENRY, “THE THRILL IS GONE

jason henry

William Rittenhouse

“For this assignment with four remaining legacy musicians outside Esther’s Orbit Room, it was all about playing a game of telephone, planning, and planning some more. I scouted the location for the best light of day, as the elevated BART platform is directly in front of the former music venue and would cast a shadow on the building past a certain time, so it needed to be photographed mid-morning. Because of schedule conflicts, health issues, and more schedule conflicts, it was rescheduled three times. The stars finally aligned, and [creative director] John Goecke granted me a deadline extension, understanding the scheduling battles. I arrived early, and, of course, there was a tractor trailer parked right in front of the venue, casting a deep shadow, and I was crushed. I saw the passenger window was halfway down, so I gently shouted until a groggy driver appeared from the cabin. Still half asleep, I explained what I was there to do, and thankfully he understood and kindly moved the truck as the musicians began to arrive. So after three scheduled attempts and a stroke of luck, we got the image.”


dezso molnár, streetwing flying, el mirage

Spencer Lowell

SPENCER LOWELL, “ON A WING AND A PRAYER

spencer lowell

Spencer Lowell

“What I remember most about the shoot is that I went into the project thinking that I was going to be photographing a flying car but quickly realized that the story was really about Dezso and his ambition to build a flying car. With a project like this, where I’m documenting an experience as it unfolds, I aim to stay as flexible as possible and follow the lead of my subject. Dezso was a very intense character with big aspirations, and hopefully that’s what came across in my images.”


patricia lincourt, charlie across the north
atwater bridge, one of two new multiuse spans over the los angeles river

Penni Gladstone

PENNI GLADSTONE, “SOMETHING’S AFOOT IN THE BIG CITY

penni gladstone

Penni Gladstone

“The assignment was to show how this bridge is being used. I loved the design, and by shooting from a low angle, I made the bridge more exciting. The horse added drama rather than a person walking or a bike rider crossing the bridge.”


stoney michelli

Gregg Segal

GREGG SEGAL, “MAKING CLOTHES SUITED FOR ANY GENDER

gregg segal

Gregg Segal

“I thought the fashion district in downtown L.A. would be a fitting location for my shoot with Stoney Michelli. I pictured her interacting with the bolts of fabric you find in front of all the shops. This was a fast and loose shoot, no permits, and what was going through my head was, How much can we get away with, without permissions and permits? It was a really windy afternoon, and the fabrics in the shot billowed like flags, adding drama, color, and spontaneity to the portrait. Stoney has a lot of presence and intensity, too, which also helped make for a compelling image.”


phil ross

Penni Gladstone

PENNI GLADSTONE, “THE MUSHROOM MAN’S MAGIC

penni gladstone

Penni Gladstone

“I am inspired by the beauty of the forest, and as Philip hunted for mushrooms enveloped by the woods, he became a part of the surroundings. It was the perfect setting to show how he is nurtured by nature. I wanted him wrapped in ferns.”


petroglyphs of paiute or shoshone origin near the owens valley in the eastern sierra, carved into volcanic tuff by chipping away the dark, top layer and exposing a light surface below

Gordon Wiltsie

GORDON WILTSIE, “THE ‘ORDERLY ANARCHY’ OF ANCIENT CALIFORNIA

gordon wiltsie

Gordon Wiltsie

“This picture of petroglyphs, taken near my birthplace in Bishop, California, depicts a sacred landscape that a friend and I first stumbled across in 1972, while on a hallucinogenic vision quest, exploring a wonderland of oddly shaped volcanic rocks near the yet-undiscovered Happy Boulders, now an international mecca for rock climbers. We were both awed to think of someone crouching there, thousands of years ago, crafting a message we can no longer understand. The whole surroundings felt like a spiritual power place, and I returned many times to photograph it.”•