Countdown: the best photos of 2021

I took more than 2000 photos in 2021. That’s not an awful lot, in fact; there are photographers who click that number away in a weekend. I am more the type of photographer who tends to think twice before pressing the shutter button. I’m really bad at selecting the best photos from hundreds of candidates. And I also like to keep the time spent on post-processing to a minimum.

Year in Review

But even with such a relatively small production, it is quite a job to make the traditional annual overview with the ten best photos of ’21. Even on the longlist, compiled after much deliberation, there are still 144 pictures.

Well, “best” is of course a flexible term. I can put together a top 10 one day and pick 10 other photos the next. And I’m also striving for a bit of variety for this post; a list of only spring pictures gets a little boring. Finally, the selection is somewhat guided by the stories I can tell about photos. For example, it’s a good thing if a photo has a link certain developments or events in a year. Anyway, with those disclaimers in mind, I proudly present the top 10 of my best photos of 2021.

Mosaic with the longlist for the top 10 of best photos of 2021, in the opinion of the photographer
The longlist of best photos over 2021

10 – Aestheticly debatable

Can you take a good photo of something ugly? The answer is: yes, but don’t even think about putting it in the webshop.

For reasons of privacy and compassion, I won’t say where I found this recently completed house. Okay, a little hint then: it is in a seaside resort near Rotterdam, where the Blok family used to spend their beach holidays. The municipal aesthetic committee apparently had no problems with the design. But the house would not get the Nobel Prize in Architecture, if that existed at all.

Around the property there seems to be an ecological zone with lush long grass and wildflowers. But that will be temporary; this must be someone who is paving his garden, or will at best roll out a trimmed lawn that is permanently managed by a robotic lawnmower. Ah, maybe I’m wrong; who knows, a beautifully designed and highly biodiverse garden will emerge, in which the house, with a little help of time’s kindness, will fit perfectly. In that case, I’ll frankly admit my mistake in an update to this blog post.

Just completed villa that may have been aproved by the municipal esthetic committee but that wouldn't get the Nobelprize for architecture, if that existed
Not a Nobel prize winner

9 – Cool

Unlike in the depressingly mild previous winters, this year we actually had snow that stayed around for a while. It only lasted a week, but it caused a mix of disruption and winter fun that we had to miss for a long time, in the southwest of the country.

On February 7, the country was struck by a snow storm. In Rotterdam, even the RET trams gave up. Coolsingel, which had just been re-paved, and where such heated scenes would take place later in the year, became covered with a nice pack of snow. This photo of the plodding couple with their baby carriage, paints the picture.

But I remain critical of my photos: this one would have been even better if I had waited a fraction of a second, when the man had just passed the tram pole. Unfortunately, that mistake can never be undone.

A nice detail that is hard to see on this low res version: the beer advertisement on the far right with the text: Brrrtje? (A basic understanding of the Dutch language is required to get the joke)

Couple with baby car trying to cross the tramtracks on central Coolsingel boulevard in Rotterdam during a blizzard in the winter of 2021
Winter on Coolsingel

8 – Marathon Party

There was a period, in the indian summer of 2021, when the corona crisis seemed to be over. Once again, major events could be organized without any worries, such as the Rotterdam marathon on 24 October. Just two months later we are back to square one, but this photo reminds us of those beautiful times. And those times will come again, believe me.

Everyone in this photo seems to be having fun, judging by the hands in the air and the waving Rotterdam flags. Well, everyone… probably not the runners, because from Boezemsingel, where this photo was taken, it is still a kilometer or two to the finish at Coolsingel. And that’s quite a long way, after having run forty of those kilometers.

Festive scene on Boezemsingel during the 2021 edition of the Rotterdam marathon, from the top 10 of best photos of the year
Party on Boezemsingel

7 – Psychedelic Grevelingen

The salt marshes and mudflats along the banks of lake Grevelingen, on the north coast of the island of Schouwen-Duiveland, had spectacular colors when we passed them at the beginning of September during the tenth stage of the Grevelingen Trail. Blue water, white sand, brown mud. And vegetation in all shades between green and red. Those bright red pieces, is that salicornia? Are they sea asters? The experts I consulted are not unanimous.

But what really stands out in this photo is the barbed wire fence that runs diagonally through the image. An mysterious fence that divides the land outside the dikes in two. Presumably one of the two areas is more nature reserve than the other, but which of the two is that? Nature itself doesn’t seem to care.

Colorful banks of lake Grevelingen off the island of Schouwen-Duiveland, The Netherlands with a large variety of vegetation
Marshes and mudflats

6 – Roffahenge

You could call it a subgenre of urban photography: the henge pictures, in which the setting sun aligns perfectly with a major avenue or a well-known landmark. This, of course, is a reference to Stonehenge, the prehistoric monument in southern England where the sun rises behind a large stone every year during the solstice.

In New York, Manhattanhenge, the day when the sun aligns with the famous pattern of streets and avenues, is becoming a modest tourist attraction. In Rotterdam there is a day when the sun, seen from Wilhelminaplein, sets exactly between the legs of the pylon of Erasmus Bridge.

On September 4, the sun, seen from my front door, rests for a brief moment in the middle of the concrete pergola on this apartment building in Rotterdam-West. Architecture connoisseurs will of course immediately recognize the RVS building, completed in 1958 at Heemraadsingel, nicknamed the Craving Bunker because in the early years the residents were exclusively single women. The question is whether those women were craving, or whether other people craved for them. Anyway, this Roffahenge usually passes unnoticed because it is often cloudy in the Netherlands. But not in 2021.

The setting sun seems to rest on a concrete construction on the roof of a modernist residential building in Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Resting on the pergola

5 – Dramatic Light

Little C is a new neighborhood next to Coolhaven harbour, which was completed a few months ago. A very well-designed new part of the city with a high density and beautiful details. It is hard to imagine that this area has been lying fallow for decades.

Unfortunately, it often takes a very long time before all construction fences, excavators and mobile toilets have disappeared around new buildings. This is also the case at Little C. Work is currently underway on the adjacent Tuschinski Park, named after Abraham Tuschinski, the cinema entrepreneur who stuck around in Rotterdam when he passed through the city on his emigration from Poland the the United States.

I’ll have to go back to the Coolhaven Bridge in 2022 for a remake of this photo without those disturbing elements. But such a combination of the late afternoon sun with a dark sky, that may be difficult.

Recently completed Little C neighbourhood and Coolhaven harbour in Rotterdam, The Netherlands in the light of the late afternoon sun against a dark sky
Little C and Coolhaven

4 – Walking the dog

Every year it becomes a little clearer that climate, biodiversity and other environmental issues are top priority. I devoted two blog posts to the issue in 2021, with radically different angles: I fact-checked the statement that there is no planet B (spoiler: there isn’t…) and I launched a carnival song that tries to educate a large audience about the subject in a light-hearted way.

This photo, taken on the beach of Hook of Holland, seems to sum it all up symbolically. A young woman looks across the rolling waves towards the industry at Maasvlakte, where a coal-fired power station is still smoking happily. Her look expresses concern… no, that’s not true, we can’t see her face. We’ll never know, maybe she was lost in thought or she just had an eye for her dog. Of course, that doesn’t make the world’s problems any less urgent.

The photo would have been even stronger if the dog hadn’t turned its butt towards the camera. But that is of course only a detail in light of the challenges of our time.

Woman with dog on the beach in Hook of Holland with in the background the industry at Europoort and Maasvlakte
CO2 emission in progress

3 – Haarlem in the moonlight

I didn’t make any foreign photo expeditions this year. But unlike in 2020, when public transport in the Netherlands was declared “only for necessary travel” and I had to limit my expeditions mainly to the province of South Holland, this year some further destinations came into view: Vlissingen, Deventer, Amersfoort, Leeuwarden.

And last but not least Haarlem. On a beautiful evening in November I walked for two hours along the Spaarne river. The conditions were ideal: there was no wind at all, the temperature was pleasant and the full moon provided some additional lighting. The harvest included this picture of Gravestenen bridge with the tower of Bakenesser church in the background on the left.

Traditional wooden drawbridge reflecting in the river Spaarne in Haarlem, The Netherlands, on a windless evening
Reflections in the Spaarne river

2 – Summer on a Dutch Mountain

On a sunny August day on Lemelerberg, a 60 metres high mountain in the province of Overijssel, I took dozens of photos of forest, heath and friendly skies. But somehow this one in particular continues to fascinate me. Is it the fork in the dirt paths? It always has some nice symbolism, such a fork in the road: do we stay in the lee of the forest or do we go for the adventure on the branch to the left? The arrow on the post recommends the latter. But why is that side path surrounded by those wooden fences? And what is that strange shape on the left, as if someone has swept through the moor with a large mower?

Summer landscape at Lemelerberg "mountain" in Overijssel, The Netherlands, with a fork of dirtroads between forest and heath
Fork in the road

1 – Urban nature

Weeds are too negative a term for the urban nature that you sometimes encounter in the most unlikely places. These are miniature worlds with pioneer vegetation that survives in an environment made of stone, concrete, steel and glass.

Take, for example, this pile of sand between two concrete blocks on the quay of Rijnhaven harbour. Wild chamomile (matricaria discoidea), mossy stonecrop (crassula tillaea) and some unidentified grasses seem to have a good time here.

What makes this photo a well-deserved number one is the fact that also the context is immediately clear. Because although the background shows a beautiful bokeh, the buildings are immediately recognizable for Rotterdammers: the New Luxor Theater, the spheres of the floating pavilion and the KPN tower. And of course on the top right, as the ultimate support act, Erasmus Bridge.

Bunch of weeds on a patch of sand at the quay of Rijnhaven harbour in Rotterdam, The Netherlands with blurry in the background the New Luxor Theatre and Erasmus bridge
Matricaria and crasula

Top 10s from other years: 2016201720182019202020222023

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