2011′s top 12

This is the time of year when most people tend to look back at the past year before heading into the new year. Everyone has an end-of-the-year list. Usually it’s something along the lines of a top 10 of this or the worst 5 of that. I’ve done a look back at the year by picking my single favorite photo from each month. Consider it a top 12 of my favorites from 2011.

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January 12:

Hockey games can have punishing hip checks into the wall, dramatic slap shots, pulse-pounding defensive plays and, of course, furious fistfights. All things to be excited about, to be sure, but I wouldn’t say that there was anything inherently funny about a hockey game. I got this shot in one of my first Thunder hockey games. Stockton Thunder’s Garet Hunt (24) brawled with Bakersfield Condors’ Pascal Morency two seconds (!) into the first period. A woman sitting just behind the Plexiglas was having a great laugh as the players traded blows just a few feet away.

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February 19:

While some pictures are all about excitement and drama, others are of quieter moments. In February, I came across Paul Williams of Stockton playing a West African djembe drum while sitting beneath the shade structure at the Weber Point Events Center in downtown Stockton. White puffy clouds floated in the sky behind him and made for a peaceful, serene picture.

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March 17:

My favorite assignment from March was the annual St. Baldrick’s event at Lincoln High School. Students, teachers and parents volunteered to have their hair cut or shaved to help raise money for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which helps children with cancer. Some 30 people had their hair cut or shaved during the event at the school in Stockton. I got a lot of great pictures that day, but my favorite was of 15-year-old Alyssa Kimball having her head shaved with her mother Dominee Muller-Kimball. Alyssa’s older sister had hers done a few years earlier, at which time Alyssa said she wanted to do it, too. Muller-Kimball promised Alyssa when it came time for her to get her head shaved that she’d do it, too. The pair sat side-by-side, held hands, and endured their scalping-for-a-good-cause together.

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April 16:

The thrill of competition and the heroic effort the athletes put into their respective sports can show on their faces. One can visualize a wide receiver eyes wide open as he leaps for a finger-tip catch in football or a basketball player’s sneer as he or she brings down a rebound. Competitive eating isn’t a sport that one thinks of as producing such moments (some may not even think that it’s a sport at all). “Professional eater” Joey Chestnut was the featured competitor at the annual Asparagus Festival’s deep-fried-asparagus-eating contest in Stockton, and he didn’t disappoint he crowd. Sweat covered his face as it screwed up in a grimace of pain and exertion while eating his way to a world record of 9 pounds, 5.2 ounces in 10 minutes.

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May 22:

The frog jumps at the annual Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubliee in Angels Camp is another event that some may not think of as true sport, but don’t tell that to its participants. They take it very seriously, indeed. Each has their own ritual of dunking/spraying each frog with warm/cold water, carefully placing on the starting pad and with the concentration of a pro athlete, they yell and/or jump at the frog to motivate it into making the longest leap possible. My favorite shot from this year’s jumps is of Marsha Thompson with the Sacramento-based Bozos Frog Team. The intensity in her eyes reflects the passion with which all the “frog jockeys” compete.

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June 8:

St. Mary’s was already up a game ahead of Jesuit by winning the first game a day before and could have wrapped up the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I baseball finals against Jesuit at Hughes Stadium in Sacramento early on June 8. But the Rams lost to the Marauders 10-0 in the second game, forcing a third game in the series. Given the overwhelming loss, it looked bleak for St. Mary’s but the Rams scored early in the last game and held on to win the title. St Mary’s Chris Brink’s slide past Jesuit catcher Jordan Hanlin’s tag at home by inches seemed to symbolize the team’s extra effort to capture the championship.

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July 17:

Sometimes there’s a little kid in all of us. It was late in the day when I was leaving the annual State Fair at Cal Expo in Sacramento. I liked how the late-afternoon shadows zig-zagged in contrast to the straight lines on the Giant Super Slide on the fair’s midway and prepared to take a shot. Then a woman with a great big smile on her face came zipping down holding her burlap blanket like a rodeo cowboy riding a bucking bronco, laughing wall the way.

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August 18:

Occasionally we’ll get calls from readers saying they have something interesting or incredible to photograph. Many times it doesn’t pan out, but in August one call, indeed, turned out to be both interesting and incredible.
Dolores Munro, who lives on Highway 88 near Kettleman Lane in rural Lodi, called me and told me of a nest for a humming bird at her home. Nothing too unusual there except for the fact that it was made on a relatively realistic rubber snake. A few years ago, Munro hung several fake snakes along her front porch to scare away the woodpeckers to keep them from drilling holes in the porch’s redwood beams. They seemed to do their job admirably until this year. Two nearly full-grown chicks seemed to bulge out of the mud nest built on the tail end of the rubber snake as their parent flitted back and forth to bring them food. It was a testament to the wonder and resiliency of wildlife and the natural world.

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September 9:

It didn’t look good when I started out from the office to head to shoot a football game between Lodi High at McNair High School in north Stockton. A stiff and steady rain fell, and I wasn’t looking forward to working in a downpour. But when I got to the school, about 7 miles away as the crow flies, the rain had stopped and dramatic blue/grey clouds swirled overhead. It had just rained there about 30 minutes earlier, and I could still smell the cool dampness of the air. As the McNair varsity took the field, the clouds parted in the west and the warm firey glow of a sunset filled the horizon, and nary a drop fell the rest of my time there.

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October 10:

The Chinese philosophy of yin and yang is the concept that two seemingly opposite and disparate things can actually be a part of a whole. When I arrived at a house fire on Ebbett Place in Stockton, the residence was still engulfed in fire and smoke. The fire was mostly at the back of the house — a large portion of which was gutted by the flames. A teenage boy who was home at the time suffered minor burns to a hand. Like a thick fog bank, smoke and steam hung in the air as firefighters from two companies were battling the blaze. Then a slight breeze shifted the haze and the sun broke through the smoke and the backyard trees, creating a beautiful yang to the destructive fire’s yin.

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November 6:

When I arrived at the Woodbridge Ecological Reserve and Isenberg Sandhill Crane Reserve on Woodbridge Road west of I-5 at about 3:30 p.m. there were only a couple of small flocks of sandhill cranes there. The large birds are usually off doing whatever cranes do during the day and come back to the reserve during the evening. After a while, even those few cranes that were there flew off, leaving only an assortment of ducks, geese, and other assorted waterfowl. I waited for another two hours, and still no birds. Then the sun started to set and the cranes began to return. At first there were only a few here and there, then there were large flocks flying in from every direction. The setting sun cast a warm glow in the as I got a shot of a small group of four cranes as they gently glided in for a landing.

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December 20:

Sometimes an overall shot of a scene can tell the whole story in a single picture, while other times a shot of a closeup or detail can tell the story just as well. I was looking for a weather picture one foggy morning when I stopped at a vineyard along Peltier Road near Rond Road just off of I-5 near Thornton. Visibility was less than 100 yards, and if anyone was out and about in the fog they couldn’t be seen. Using a macro lens, I caught the mist condensing into a glistening dewdrop on a dormant grape vine. With the grape vines reflected in the drop and fading into the fog in the background, it showed the cold and grey veil that had descended over the county.

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    Clifford Oto

    Clifford Oto, an award-winning photographer, has been with The Record since 1984. Through the changes from black and white to digital photography, he’s kept his focus on covering the events, people and life of San Joaquin county. This blog deals ... Read Full
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