As the year draws to a close, I find myself looking back at the year on this blog. And following the steps of a ritual I have been practising for the last eight years, choosing twelve photos that have appeared on this blog over the last year, for sharing in this retrospective. As usual, this means that the photos have appeared on this blog since I published the last retrospective, but may have been taken earlier. For those who are interested, the retrospectives from previous years are still available.
If you’re here just for the photos, skip down to the bottom of this post for a gallery. Otherwise I’ll start with a brief review of the year and then will say a few things about each of my chosen photos.
I’m sure I don’t need to say that this was a strange year. I count myself lucky that my work was not at risk; so we were spared worries of the serious kind. The university shifted into online teaching mode effectively overnight, and I’m happy to say our faculty was well-prepared for this. Personally, it was not a difficult transition, as I had an excellent home office setup already, and I was already used to working from home every so often. Not everyone was so lucky, though, and in particular many students had (and are still having) a rough time of it all. It still meant a few upgrades to my computing setup were in order, though, particularly to allow me to work on the ASEMI project. So I took the opportunity to set up a ZFS-based NAS at home, and changed our computers to use a network-mounted home directory (with local SSD cache). My position as head of department also meant that many consequences of our unusual circumstances landed on my desk, so work kept me busier (and more preoccupied) than usual.
Of course, all work-related travel was cancelled once it was clear how serious the situation in Europe was. We were actually in France when the first cases started appearing, and I distinctly recall R predicting how serious it would soon become. Obviously, our annual stay in the English lake district didn’t happen, either. This means, of course, that the only travel photos I posted this year are from our time in Grenoble in January, and whatever was in last year’s backlog of images.
R and I started the initial lockdown with a bang, following a call from my boss (and then from the government officials) telling me that there was a positive case in the last face-to-face class I taught. I knew I had been within striking distance of every student, so this meant a mandated quarantine for myself and for R (and for the rest of the students and their families, in fact). Thank heavens R keeps a well-stocked pantry, so the only thing we needed to restock were the perishables.
For a while after this, we cut off all (physical) social contacts. This must have been the longest period without climbing since I started climbing over ten years ago. To avoid going insane I started going on regular solo walks in the Maltese countryside, which I had not done in a few years. Eventually the weather became too hot for this, so the walks had to stop. Instead, I went for a few swims, mostly alone, and in places with few people around. At this point we also had better guidelines on how to behave responsibly in this pandemic. I started climbing again, but with limited partners, just to keep our combined circles small. The British Mountaineering Council (BMC) had issued guidelines for climbers and walkers, and we adapted these to our situation. Ironically, this all meant that this year I have already climbed more than I did the year before. Trad climbing remains an important part of this, and includes a couple first ascents on easy new routes. I also ticked my first route in the 7a grade this year, after a few attempts. For someone who really doesn’t chase the grade, it made me happier than I expected.
This year I also started running regularly. I had been trying to do this for a while, but it never stuck. Other than the initial physical difficulty (which the couch-to-5k NHS programme easily fixed), I realised it was really a scheduling issue. If I wanted to do this regularly, it had to easily become part of my routine. I tried dropping down to the University track after work for a quick run before heading home, but found I was often too tired to deal with that. Eventually I settled on an early morning run before having breakfast. This would only work if I didn’t need to drive to my starting point, so I planned a route nearby with various options for length. Anything from 3-10k really, without repeats. I have now been running three times a week for several months, and I can definitely feel the difference. One unexpected side effect is that now I need to eat more.
So, at last, let me present my selection of photos below. I kept to the same philosophy as previous years: these are not necessarily my best photos, but merely twelve photos that are meaningful to me, and generally representative of my work.
I chose to open up this year’s series with a photo from our stay in Grenoble in January this year. We visited a number of museums there, so perhaps it’s fitting that the photo I picked is from the beautiful Musée de Grenoble. Only a few weeks later, everything would be closed down.
In spring I revisited a number of walks in the Maltese countryside, some of which I had not done for a few years. On a few of these I came across a dog or two (not unusual, that) who decided to tag along for a while. Following a tradition that started on a walk with a couple friends of mine last year, these dogs are always called ‘Buddy’. On this walk I had taken my old film camera with me, so this photo is on Adox APX 100, which I developed myself in Rodinal.
I experimented a bit on these walks. Knowing that I would not get to do my walks in Cumbria this year, I’d decide what camera gear to take with me depending on the walk, in the same way I would have done there. As I was walking solo, I had the liberty of spending whatever time I wanted on my photography as part of the walk. On this walk from Mistra, I knew I wanted to shoot this view of the cliffs and St Paul’s islands, so I came prepared with a wide angle lens, tripod, and filters.
On this last walk, late in the season, I took a telephoto lens and looked for extracts of the rocky coastline. The walk itself went by a long section of coast, so I knew there would be plenty of opportunity for this kind of work.
During the pandemic, I also increased my blogging frequency significantly for a few months. This allowed me to work through a significant backlog of photos from last year that I still wanted to share. Many of these I decided to leave out of this retrospective, as I felt they would be out of tune with the rest of the year. (For example, these include photos from last year’s trip to New Zealand and Australia, and from the lake district.) Two of these, however, could easily make the cut, as they were taken in Malta towards the end of the year. This first one is from a photo outing near Rabat. I had already walked in this area a couple times, and wanted to revisit late in the day.
This second photo, also from last year, was an accidental one. I was out to take photos of a couple chapels in the Siġġiewi area. As I was walking back to my car I could see the parish church dominating the skyline. With its lighting and the purple sky, I couldn’t resist. So I stopped, set up my tripod by the side of the road, and made this photo.
Our mandatory quarantine happened to include a public holiday. While work days passed quickly (quarantine or not, we all had to work from home at that point anyway), weekends and public holidays were more tricky. I felt I shouldn’t even do some woodwork in the garage (as it doesn’t connect internally to our home), so I found other ways to occupy my time. One of these was this exercise in studio photography. Bottles make interesting subjects, particularly those with shiny labels, and it was fun playing with the technicalities of this kind of photography.
I also tried, occasionally, to find subjects at home to shoot. Many of these didn’t make the cut, but this photo I had to keep, because to me it screams joy and hope, and we sure need a lot of that.
This year I also made some more progress on my long-term project on chapels and small churches. And while not strictly part of this series, I had to include this photo of the entrance to the old cemetery known as Ta’ L-Abbati, in Ħal Mann. I walked down there specifically for this photo, and I also pass by regularly on my morning runs.
This photo was an unplanned reshoot of this chapel, on an evening visit with R. While I’m also happy with my earlier take on this subject, I found this photo grew on me as time passed.
This year was also one where I started to use the drone more frequently. While they’re easy enough to use, it takes some time to build up enough confidence. One is, after all, operating a flying vehicle, and that comes with some serious responsibilities. In this case, we had gone down to Qrendi to take an aerial survey of the Natura 2000 site there. Unknown to us at the time, we’d need to return there in a few weeks to redo the survey after a wild fire on the site. Once the survey was done, I used what little battery time we had left to take some photos of a less functional nature.
The final photo is another drone photo, on what is possibly one of my shortest flights. I had been wanting to take this photo for a while, so one fine weekend morning I walked over there before there was any traffic, made a quick flight and took this photo.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this selection. You can also see the selection as a gallery below; click on the gallery to navigate through the images.