Countdown: the Best Photos of 2020

I probably speak on behalf of most of us when I say that 2020 was a miserable year that we would rather leave behind us as soon as possible. Let’s hope that 2021 will be better; at least there are some reasons for moderate optimism.

Photographically it was also a somewhat different year. Foreign travel was not an option and even within the Netherlands the possibilities were limited. I always traveled carelessly all over the country by train and bus, but that suddenly became rather difficult. After the “train service in national interest” this spring, and the very urgent advice to use public transport only for essential journeys, things become somewhat easier in June. But long train journeys with a face mask are still not lightly embarked upon.

I have therefore not traveled outside the province of South Holland for months. Leiden, Gouda, Gorinchem and Stellendam were the frontier towns of my world in 2020. Okay, with the exception of a two-week stay in Zwolle, in the eastern part of the Netherlands, in the valley between the first and the second wave.

Of course one can also take pretty nice photographs close to home, but the harvest is not as rich as in other years: only 2000 pictures. Nevertheless: also an annus horibilis deserves to be reviewed, so I compiled a longlist of 140 photos and further reduced that selection to a traditional top 10.

The longlist for the selection of the ten best photos of 2020 on Frans Blok's blog
The longlist

10 – Le Lac d’Oostvoorne

Like me, many Dutch people had to spend their holiday in the Netherlands and that does not have to be a bad thing at all. These fellow countrymen had found a nice spot on the northern shore of a lake called Oostvoornse Meer, once the mouth of the Rhine, now a deep basin of water that is especially popular with divers. Fellow countrymen you say? But couldn’t they be Germans, for example? No, because with a 300 mm lens you can even distinguish the yellow number plates.

Because of this telephoto lens, the contrast with the harbour installations of Rotterdam-Europoort also seems a bit more dramatic than it was probably experienced by the holidaymakers. The three campers seem to be right at the foot of the giant container cranes, but in reality there is still a kilometer in between. A little more in the foreground, we see a roof with enough solar panels to provide an entire urban district with electricity. Hidden behind the bushes are a motorway and railway. The high-voltage pylon is not even the first to be noticed among all that violence. All that’s missing are a few windmills.

Three mobile homes on the north bank of Oostvoornse meer in the Netherlands with in the background the giant structures of Rotterdam Europoort harbour facilities

9 – Little monsters

Trees, boats, buildings and animals; those four subjects appear over and over again in my photography. So there should always be at least one animal photo in the top 10. But which one should it be this year? Sheep senior and junior, sunbathing in the grass in blissful ignorance of the pandemic? The little pig, equally blissful in the mud? The heron, the gull, the grebes, the cuddly duckling?

I picked these two young coots, looking for something edible in the quay wall of Steigersgracht canal in Rotterdam. Adult coots are, due to their black and white appearance, less photogenic than more colorful waterfowl such as the duck or Egyptian goose. And they are not very sympathetic either, or shouldn’t I commit the terrible sin of projecting human qualities onto animals? Anyway, young coots are photogenic; they still have some red and yellow around their heads that apparently disappears as they grow up. With their bald heads and the contrasting wild hair around the neck, they are like monsters. Cute little monsters.

Two young coots in a canal in Rotterdam in springtime
Monsters in the canal

8 – Lavender in the shopping mall

Can you completely ignore covid-19 when making an overview of 2020? Not really, huh? I took a lot of photos of arrows on the ground, face mask icons, disinfection pillars and other manifestations of the pandemic in the streets. Simply because these are pictures that you will not be able to take this time next year. Or at least I hope so.

Some of those photos are doing pretty well on the stock photo websites. Fine, then at least it makes me some money, however meager those earnings are. But it is not top 10 material.

However, some corona measures had aesthetic qualities. In the Beurstraverse shopping mall, a.k.a. the Koopgoot, a creative way of separating the pedestrian flows had been devised: a long row of pots of lavender along the center line of the sunken shopping street. The shoppers adhered to it reasonably well, so the plants may have prevented a few infections. And they smelled good too.

In December the lavender was replaced by little Christmas trees. But there is not a lot of pedestrian flows to be separated because of the current lockdown.

Pot with lavender in Buerstraverse/Koopgoot, the sunken shopping street in downtown Rotterdam, the Netherlands, as a measure to seperate flows of pedestrians and prevent spreading of covid-19
Aesthetic corona measure

7 – Spiegel im Spiegel

Although there initially was some skepticism – building in a park is usually not such a good idea – the collection building of museum Boymans now seems to be embraced by the people of Rotterdam. And rightly so, because if my esteemed ex-colleague Winy Maas promises you a mirrored flowerpot with a forest on top, you will get a mirrored flowerpot with a forest on top. And from a distance those trees may look rather tiny, but when you walk between them, it is an impressive birch forest, as I was able to observe with 7000 fellow citizens during the Silver Opening in September.

The shiny pot has been photographed many times, not just by me but by anyone with a camera or a phone (so really just anyone). As my favorite photo I pick this one, taken from the Rose Garden on the day the last mirror was placed. Not only because of the double reflection, but also because the green hedge here nicely hides the construction fences from view; the building will not be completely finished until the autumn of 2021. Although those fences are visible in the mirror; well, that’s what mirrors tend to do.

The reflective museum Boymans collection building, reflecting in a pond in Museumpark, Rotterdam
The Pot from the Rose Garden

6 – Sacral bird hide

Most of the photos on this blog were taken with my Nikon D5100. But during our visit to Tij, the architectural birdwatching hut in Stellendam, that camera had a telephoto lens that is completely unsuitable for interior pictures. Fortunately, the company Samsung also turns out to make pretty good stuff; in other words, this photo was taken with my phone.

In fact, all credit for this photo goes to the designers, RO&AD and RAU Architects. And to Natuurmonumenten, the organisation that had the guts to build a bird observatory that is more than a few planks with some holes in them. This egg is nothing less than a sacred space.

Tij was even nominated for the Dutch Building of the Year award. But even this beautiful wood and thatch construction couldn’t compete with the Forum in Groningen.

I only have one small criticism: you don’t have a really good view of the exterior of the egg anywhere. That is undoubtedly part of the concept, but nevertheless: a viewpoint at some distance, with a view of the thatched egg reflecting in the Haringvliet estuary, is that too much to ask?

Interior of the archutectural bird observatory Tij near Haringvliet estuary in Stellendam, The Netherlands
Inside the egg

5 – The Park in the mist

Six of the ten photos in this list were taken within a mile of my house. And that is of course typical of this year. I estimate that since the start of the corona crisis, I have walked about 1,500 kilometers on photo expeditions in the center of Rotterdam or the adjacent neighborhoods.

I am particularly happy with Het Park. Some people call it the Park near the Euromast, but it is better to speak of the Euromast near Het Park, because that watchtower is of much later date. In this foggy photo we see, from left to right, the Mansion and the Coach House. Both are nowadays used as a cafe by Dudok and Parqiet respectively. Although at the moment of making of the photo, at the beginning of December, they were closed due to the lockdown. But Parqiet did have a pick-up counter with, among other things, highly appreciated glühwein.

On clear days, behind the Coach House, one can see the Erasmus Medical Center which plays such an important role during this crisis. But it remains hidden in the mists on this day in late autumn.

The Mansion and the coach House in The Park in Rotterdam, The Netherlands on a foggy day in late autumn
Talking about mirrors

4 – Creeping Woodsorrel

Municipalities in the Netherlands have recently been allowed to use Roundup again to control weeds. For reasons I don’t really understand; it’s a complicated legal story. And weeds can be so beautiful! Okay, I understand that if you don’t do anything at all, streets and squares will become impenetrable forests within ten years or so. But surely you don’t have to eradicate every little plant that bravely tries to conquer a place for itself between the bricks.

Take this close-up of the creeping wood sorrel, or Oxalis corniculata, found in the front yard of my Zwolle guest house. Due to the use of a telephoto lens and the very narrow depth of field, the plant may seem larger than it is, but we are really talking about just a few square centimeters; the scale can be observed from the size of the paving bricks between which the herb grows. Wonderful, those yellow flowers between the red and green leaves. And the fact that I accidentally tilted the camera does in this case provide some extra dynamics.

I’ve been told it’s possible to make tea from the leaves. And the whole plant is rich in vitamin C. We can use that during a pandemic. Think about that, municipality, before you start using Roundup again.

Close-up of creeping woodsorrel (Oxalis corniculata) growing among the pavement bricks in an urban front yard
Oxalis corniculata

3 – Schieland in the rain

This photo of the Schielandshuis proves that you can take beautiful photos in rainy weather. The hardest part is preventing droplets on the lens; the lens hood is your best friend in that effort.

The former heaquarters of the Schieland Water Board is the only 17th century building in the center of Rotterdam. Today it is surrounded by modern high-rise buildings, although one of those towers, the Erasmushuis by architect W.M.Dukok, on the far left of the photo, is already eighty years old. Because of all those high neighbors, MVRDV recently proposed jacking up the building and placing it on a plinth.

This photo, with the historic building in all its glory and all the windows lit, has not been possible for a while due to a restoration; the last scaffolding is not long gone. The natural stone paving in the foreground also indicates that this is a recent photo; the refurbishment of the Coolsingel has already been completed here.

I used a garbage can as a tripod, thanks to the municipality of Rotterdam, which recently placed larger ones in the city center. I used the lens cap to point the camera slightly up, too lazy to take the tripod out of my bag. Then I left the lens cap on the trash can but luckily it turned out to be still there half an hour later. Oh well, a black lens cap on a dark surface, on an evening in the rain, does not really stand out.

17th century Schielandshuis building in downtown Rotterdam surrounded by modern highrise seen from Coolsingel boulevard on a rainy evening
Schielandshuis

2 – Summer forest

This photo of a green summer forest could well have been taken in the middle of a large wooded area. But in reality it was a tiny bush near Dalfsen, Overijssel. And the camera position was determined for me: because I did not have a large tripod with me, I put my camera on a trash can, just like with the number 3. With this mysterious image as a result.

What makes this photo so fascinating? Is it the depth created by the tree trunk and the leaves in the foreground? Is it the bend in the dirt road that creates tension? Is it the flash of light falling on the row of trees in the center of the photo? Is it the combination of sturdy beeches and thinner, more whimsical trunks? I really can’t tell but I keep looking.

Dirt road through a green forest in summer near Dalfsen, Overijssel, The Netherlands
The woods of Salland

1 – Delfshaven by night

This spot at the beginning of Aelbrechtskolk canal in the neighbourhood of Delfshaven is a popular place to take pictures, so I am certainly not the only one who captured this picturesque corner of Rotterdam. But by coincidence, the conditions were ideal when I passed the spot on that evening in November. There was no wind, making the water in the canal a mirror. And although it seemed almost dark, my camera caught, at an exposure of thirty seconds, still enough light to color the sky a beautiful dark blue.

On the left we can see the Pilgrim Fathers Church through the trees and further to the background is the Distilleerketel windmill. In the row of houses on the right was once the bakery of my great-uncle Henk Poot, but to be honest I can no longer reconstruct exactly where it was.

Just above center left, we see a striking phenomenon in the sky: the Moon, Jupiter and Saturn. The two planets are lines; they move that much in thirty seconds. On December 21, Jupiter and Saturn would almost touch. Well, apparently they would; Saturn is much further away. The fact that the Moon was so close on the night of the photo was also coincidental.

In the past, such phenomena in the sky used to be considered Signs, and usually of Hope. That is, of course, slightly exaggerated, because in reality the three celestial bodies are very far from each other and it is only this the rather arbitrary vantage point that produces the phenomenon. But in this unfortunate year we can use any beacon of hope so let’s consider this photo as such. In other words: a well deserved number 1.

Aelbrechtskolk canal in the neighbourhood of Delfshaven, Rotterdam during the blue hour on a windless evening
Delfshaven, Jupiter and Saturn

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