Once again, Brent Huntley has invited photographers to participate in his yearly Top Images from the Photography and Travel Community photograph project. It's a year in review project, and photographers are encouraged to choose their top "10(ish)" images, publish them to a website, and submit the link to Brent for inclusion in a photography blogroll. You can see the submissions for 2018 and the submissions for 2019. I think it's a fun way to review the year in pictures with far away (and near) photography enthusiasts, and each year I discover interesting photography blogs to add to my RSS reader.

Each year Jim Goldstein hosts a similar project. This year would have marked my fifth year of participation, but it seems that Brent and Jim's calendars did not match up, or perhaps Jim has decided not to host this year. If Jim does host, I will update this post with a link.

Selecting just ten photographs from the thousands I made each year is always challenging, and a challenge made even more so by the advent of COVID-19. The office where I worked is located right across the street from Pier 11. The office has a break room with an excellent view of Governor's Island, a helicopter pad and the water traffic on the lower Hudson River. Up until March 10 of 2020, I rode the very crowded New Jersey Transit and PATH trains to Exchange Place in Jersey City to catch the NY Waterway Ferry to Wall Street. I don't usually pay much attention to the news, but I started to hear something about a new, highly contagious virus spreading throughout the city. That night, Bhavna suggested that I work from home.

Everything changed when the New York governor issued "stay at home" executive orders. I knew New Jersey's governor would follow that lead and by the following Monday, all of us were "sheltered in place". The world had changed. Our travel plans were on indefinite hold. I cried. I had struggled with my health in 2019 so much that I didn't even attend my father's funeral. After my last surgery in December 2019, Bhavna and I looked forward to travelling and entertaining. The kids would be off to college and university—the kitchen renovation project would be complete. I had wanted to host craft beer tasting parties with my close friends for the longest time. At the same time, I was dealing with my health challenges, I had stocked the beer fridge with ales from some of the best craft micro-breweries from around the United States. I had also started to get into street photography and wanted to do more of that. We talked about returning to the finger lakes and visiting my family in Bequia for the first time since 1998. I had plans to go out of state for some wildlife photography.

But that's not how things worked out.

Just weeks after COVID-19 had a name, it savaged the nursing homes in our area. Bhavna lost her dad to COVID in April, just a year and a few days after my dad passed away. Then a few weeks after that, a close friend called to tell me her mother had also passed away from COVID. We helped our children pack their things and find desks for "remote college”, another disaster in the making. We would spend the rest of the year living in fear of other people.

The shelter-in-place orders allowed us to leave our homes for essentials-food, medicine, and exercise. The neighbourhood streets became full of people looking to escape their home offices. Work from home isn’t much fun if you can’t get out with friends for lunch or dinner or a pint of ale.

For a while, every other day, I escaped to the woods of Hunterdon County and Mercer County with Bhavna. The virus continued to ravage New York and New Jersey. The executive orders became more stringent, and all state, county and township parks were closed. I am thankful that the local conservation societies kept their open spaces open. The woods provide a change of scenery, a place to contemplate the "new normal", and a place to sit alone and cry. The woods and the forests helped me survive the summer.

Several northeastern states formed a COVID coalition, restricting the movement and setting quarantine rules for out-of-state visitors. Travelling had potential health risks and additional consequences. We had to adapt.

While many were protesting bad policing or systemic racism and inequality, the streets, restaurants and shops in the local area were empty. We were all in this together, except unequally.

We added to our family. Bhavna adopted a rescue cat, Sir Alphonso Mango, Alfie, from Kiran's adopted Camilla last year. Alfie is gentle and loving but mischievous.

We learned that dining outdoors was less risky when the tables (and other guests) were socially distanced and our waitstaff masked up. We developed a weekly habit of dining at the Brick Farm Tavern in Hopewell; every week since May. Except for this week when the outdoor temperatures dropped below 0ºC.

To keep me from boredom, I bought a few 1970's and 1980's 35mm film cameras and lenses, bought several rolls of film and rediscovered the joys and agony of film photography. My favourite film camera is my Minolta X-700. I bought adapters and adapted some of the long lenses to my Fuji X-T2, and photographed the wildlife in my backyard.

I completed the iPhone 11 Pro 365 day project I started last fall but abandoned the 52 Week Smartphone project. I participated in Jeff Sinon's Isolation Photo Project for as long as possible. My motivation for photography dropped off near the end of the summer.

All of that is a backdrop to the challenges in choosing images for this year. What criteria should I use to determine which images are posted below, technical or emotional? Should my best images also tell the story of the year? How do I choose? I think the photos below are selected for a combination of reasons that I may not even know, but they are a mixture of both. And it's more than ten.

I wish all of you a Happy Healthy New Year.

Sign of the times. | Wednesday 18 March, 2020 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR
Aunt Molly Trail, St. Michaels Farm Preserve | Monday 6 April, 2020 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR
Zion Crossing Park | Saturday 11 April, 2020 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF80mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR Macro
Outdoor dining at Brick Farm Tavern | Saturday 16 May, 2020 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR
The Office | Tuesday 26 May, 2020 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR
Sunday 31 May, 2020 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR
Saturday 13 June, 2020 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR
Mimi aka Camilla | Wednesday 15 July, 2020 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF27mmF2.8
Movie night. | Saturday 25 July, 2020 | Apple iPhone 11 Pro | iPhone 11 Pro back triple camera 4.25mm f/1.8
Avalon Beach | Wednesday 26 August, 2020 | Minolta X-700 | Minolta MD Rokkor-X 50mm F1.7 | Kodak Ektachrome E100 35mm Colour Reversal Film
Avalon Beach | Wednesday, 26 August, 2020 | Minolta X-700 | Minolta MD Rokkor-X 50mm f/1.7 | Kodak Ektachrome E100 35mm Colour Reversal Film
AMA Pizza e Cucina at Flounder Brewing's Beer Garden | Saturday 10 October, 2020 | Minolta X-700 | 45mm f/2 MD Rokkor-X
We adopted a rescue cat, Sir Alphonso Mango, aka Alfie | Friday 2 October, 2020 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-80mmF4 R OIS WR
Brick Farm Tavern's Outdoor Bar | Friday 23 October, 2020 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF27mmF2.8
Saturday 7 November, 2020 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF27mmF2.8
Japanese Maple | Wednesday 11 November, 2020 | FujiFilm X-T2 | Vivitar 135mm f/2.8 MC Telephoto M42

Every year Jim Goldstein invites his readers to his blog project, Your Best Photos From 2019. This is my fourth time participating in his project. I am appreciative to Jim Goldstein for continuing to support these end-of-year efforts.

From a health and emotional perspective, 2019 was a challenging year for me and this is reflected in the number and types of images reflected in my Adobe Lightroom Catalog. I battled Graves Eye Disease and the loss of my father. With regular daily and monthly trips into Philadelphia, and the need to walk from one treatment centre to another, I had many opportunities to practice street photography but less time, and with the stress of the treatments, less energy for landscape photography. Not all my trips into Philadelphia were health-related. Bhavna and I discovered that Philadelphia has excellent restaurants and parks.

2019 was also brought health challenges for my youngest who left for college in September. We made an emergency trip to Ohio just days after my surgery and brought her back home to heal. An emotional support animal, Camilla the cat, was recommended to help with recovery so we brought home Camilla, a rescue cat. She has brought joy to the whole family.

I tried something new, attending a few Warbler photography workshops with Ray Hennessey. Being out in the forests and woods of South Jersey, listening to the winds in the trees and the cacophony of birds call was excellent therapy for what was happening in my life. I’m happy that 2019 is over and eager to do a bit more wildlife photography in 2020.

Having an intense dislike of cold, I normally hibernate for the winter, but this year I endeavoured to embrace the opportunities that cold weather bring. I still dislike cold, but layers of Patagonia winter wear helped keep Jack Frost from doing damage.

In 2019, instead of purchasing a Fujifilm X100F which has been on my want list for a few years, I upgraded from a three-year-old iPhone 7 to the new iPhone 11 Pro. I immediately kicked off an iPhone Photography Project 365 to learn how to use my new gear.

The images below are captured on either my FujiFilm X-T2 or Apple iPhone 11 Pro.

Red Mill Museum and Main Street Bridge, Clinton Township, New Jersey | 26 Jan, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | Fujinon XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR
4 Mar, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | Fujinon XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR
Historic St George's United Methodist Church | 17 Apr, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | Fujinon XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR
Love Park | 21 Apr, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | Fujinon XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR
Blue-winged Warbler | 27 Apr, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | Fujinon XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR
Prothonotary Warbler | 19 May, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | Fujinon XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR
My wife and kids took me out for Father’s Day Lunch at The Dandelion | 16 Jun, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | Fujinon XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR
Camilla | 22 Sep, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | Fujinon XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR
three amigos | 12 Oct, 2019 | Apple iPhone 11 Pro | iPhone 11 Pro back triple camera 6mm f/2
14 Dec, 2019 | Apple iPhone 11 Pro | iPhone 11 Pro back camera 6mm f/2

2019, like 2018, was challenging due to health issues. Diagnosed with Graves Disease, I struggled with thyroid imbalances, affecting my mental and physical health. Despite various medications, my autoimmune system continued to attack my thyroid, causing symptoms like anxiety and weight loss. I lost 30 pounds before surgery.

Balancing this with a new client on Wall Street, I worked a hybrid schedule: two days from home and three in the office. Remarkably, I missed only three days for surgeries, managing to complete all client work.

It was challenging. One day, I broke down, immobilized on a Manhattan sidewalk, overwhelmed by hormones. My wife, unable to assist from Princeton, offered support over the phone. Two days later, I was in the emergency room for observation.

My medical team advised a thyroidectomy. In late 2018, I underwent successful surgery, leading to a lifetime of Synthroid medication.

Recovery went well until 2019, when my immune system attacked my eyes, worsening my Graves Eye Disease. This led to proptosis, causing my eyes to protrude noticeably.

Despite medication, my condition deteriorated. In April, amidst my father's passing, I received radiation and steroids. My wife drove me 90 minutes to the Will Eyes Institute in Philadelphia for six weeks, balancing this with her work commitments. The treatment left me perpetually exhausted.

The mask made for my radiation treatments caused claustrophobia and anxiety. I took Xanax before each session, meaning I couldn't drive. Bhavna drove me to the hospital in Philadelphia and from there to my office in Iselin. I'd return by train, with Bhavna picking me up at Princeton Junction Station.

During my second treatment week, my dad passed away. The doctor advised against pausing treatments, so I missed his funeral in the Caribbean. My hair fell out, and my skin darkened and cracked around my eyes. The weight I'd lost due to thyroid disease returned, ironically, thanks to high-dose steroids.

I started therapy for anxiety, struggling with positivity. We explored stress relief through exercise and photography. I took up street photography, walking between appointments in Center City, Philadelphia.

After radiation, I faced orbital decompression surgery to relieve eye socket pressure. Risks were involved, but blindness was a potential alternative. Post-surgery, I developed strabismus, seeing double. It was supposed to be temporary but persisted, leading to another surgery in December.

I couldn't drive due to the strabismus, relying on Bhavna and ride-share services for mobility. My client allowed me to work from home, a rare concession for consultants.

Confined indoors, I missed hiking and outdoor activities. By day's end, I was emotionally drained.

On 18th December, my final eye surgery for 2019 corrected the strabismus. A few weeks later, I regained my driving ability, could hike again, and resumed photography. It marked the end of a challenging 14-week period.

I almost failed to complete my CSA CCSK course, needing an extension. Post-surgery, I dedicated weekends to studying, finally completing it. So, I bid farewell to a challenging 2019.