28th December
2009
written by Jeff

Another year, come and gone. Like most years, I decided to recap what was my year in photos. For me, this was a year of changing directions in photography. Instead of things like weddings and skylines, there were portraits, concerts, events and food. I took a lot of shots for the Houston Press, for which I am quite thankful, and had a lot of fun doing it.

There were fewer shoots this year for pure enjoyment, but a lot of photos I loved and, despite shooting a lot of concert photos – South by Southwest, Houston Press Music Awards, Ingrid Michaelson, Rob Thomas/One Republic – you won’t see any straight up concert shots in my stream as they just didn’t make the cut. You also won’t see any shots of the skyline and only one of a somewhat familiar Houston landmark.

Like most photos I take, I’m am happiest with those where the subject is glorified rather than the photo and there are rarely subjects as glorious as people (or animals), which is why 7 of the 10 include living, breathing subject matter.

Oh, and I discovered a love for the golden glow of the 70’s, a theme you’ll see repeated in this batch. Hope you enjoy them. Click on any of the photos to be taken to the image in my Flickr stream.

10. Sunset Over Home Slice

Sunset Over Home Slice

My band got to play South by Southwest this past year in Austin. I’ve been to the event numerous times and the crowds and sheer force of music is insane. The night of my arrival, my guitarist and I wandered around South Congress ending up in a long line at Home Slice Pizza enjoying the crowd and the really nice weather. I got this shot of the sun setting over Austin and the SXSW revelers. As I mentioned above, this is but one example of my growing love affair for the golden glow of dusk and the beauty of 70’s styled imagery. I’m quite thankful to the gentleman in the foreground who provided some excellent depth of field with his head as well. Oh, and the pizza at Home Slice is awesome.

9. Ike the Bulldog

Ike the Bulldog

A year after Hurricane Ike tore up the Texas coast, it seemed only fitting that an adorable bulldog with the same name get some face time (literally) this year in my stream. For the third straight year, I attended the World Series of Dog Shows at Reliant Center and, once again, was not disappointed. This photo was one of many that became a Houston Press slideshow and this particular photo ended up in the print edition as well. Ike was extremely friendly and this is one of my all time favorite animal photos for many reasons. Like many of the shots in this top 10, it’s more about the subject matter and the moment than the actual photo which is, frankly, rather mediocre.

8. Chocolate Cake with Raspberries

Chocolate Cake with Raspberries

My good friend, Katharine, has been responsible for many important parts of my 2009. Without her, I never would have gotten so many great photo gigs from the Press, nevermind the experience of the Dr. Pepper Museum in Waco. More specifically, she introduced me to food photography, something I fell into as the result of her inviting me to food related events she wrote about. Whether it was the opening of La Toretta Del Lago (where this photo was taken), the Houston Press Menu of Menus or a random restaurant event, I made a lot of new friends and discovered a talent for shooting food I didn’t really know I had. This ridiculously tasty item was one of my favorite food shots of the year.

7. Trapeze Artist

Trapeze Artist

In addition to food photography, Katharine introduced me (if indirectly) to my girlfriend, whose niece, Jade, is both brilliant and sweet. Seen here lashed into some crazy flying contraption at the Texas Renaissance Festival, this is the only black and white photo in my top 10 this year, but very deserving. I snapped a smattering of photos as she bounced high in the air and this one happened to be framed perfectly and, as luck would have it, overexposed to the point of a starkness that I probably wouldn’t have done on purpose but worked out PERFECTLY in this shot. Happily, I have printed and framed two copies of this. One is hanging in my girlfriend’s apartment and the other I gave to Jade at Christmas. I’m far more happy that they love it than the fact that I love it, but it is one of my favorites.

6. Look at Us!

Look at Us!

Rarely am I asked to do a portrait photo shoot where I feel like I had as much or more fun than the participants. Mostly, I worry about getting exposures right and capturing moments, but this was an entirely different animal. The Houston Press, in parody of the Houston Chronicle’s full-page announcement of their new society writers, asked me to shoot their music writer, Craig Hlavaty, and one of their feature writers, Mike Giglio, in silly poses they could use for a similar write-up to be featured on their blog. The goal was to be as silly as possible and Craig and Mike were happily willing to oblige. Monica Fuentez, the art director for the HP, had all the ideas ready to go making it really easy. The shoot only took about 30 minutes inside like the one above and outside in the back of a pickup truck, but it was easily some of the most fun I’ve had taking pictures in a long time.

5. Snow Angel

Snow Angel

Shocking is the only way to describe the fact that Houston has had measurable snowfall two straight years. Unlike last year, the snow this year came during the daylight hours AND my good friend, Katya, and I were prepared. Her choice of Glenwood Cemetary as an ideal location for snow photos was inspired and produced probably my favorite of the day. The combination of the iconic angel many have brilliantly shot at Glenwood, the snow and the autumn colors of the trees makes this a near perfect photo for me.

4. Right Side Kiss

Right Side Kiss

Yet another photo shoot for the Press included Halloween night at Oni-Con Houston, an anime convention at a hotel on the west side of town. The vast majority of the participants were well under 25 (most under 20) making me either a creepy old man with a camera or an official photographer with a badge…or both. Honestly, I had little to no idea who any of the kids were supposed to be, but I can tell you their costumes were about 1000 times better than any costumes I’ve seen on Halloween. This was clearly a labor of love and they enjoyed every minute of it. Unlike some events where visitors are camera shy if not outright indignant about having their photos taken, the participants at this event WANTED you to take their photo making for a lot of fun for me and my camera.

3. Forgotten But Not Gone

Forgotten But Not Gone

The title of this photo is a take on the line “he’s forgotten but not yet gone” from the Ben Folds song “Fred Jones Part 2,” where the described is fired from his job at a newspaper and the sad story of his lonely life to follow. It awkwardly fits the subject matter. Earlier this year, a friend and I snuck into the Wilshire Village Apartments prior to them being condemned to take some photos and explore. What we found were beautiful apartments in horribly sad disrepair. In one of these was this bicycle floating in the light from the bathroom window. Now these apartments are completely gone, torn down in favor of a big empty lot that will probably become condos or some other urban monstrosity.

2. Golden Girl

Golden Girl

This was taken during a photoshoot for the daughter of two of my dear friends. Phoenix wanted some senior portraits and because she is a model, she wanted something different. Sure, we got some headshots as well, but this was my favorite of the bunch. There’s something about someone so dressed up and fancy looking (that’s Texan, partner!) set against the backdrop of the warehouse district and an abandoned field. Phoenix was a trooper and her mom helped me hold the reflector which gave me the amazing golden light in these photos. It is still one of my favorite portrait sessions ever.

1. The Golden West

The Golden West

Yes, my model is lovely. Yes, she is also my girlfriend. But, no, that is not why I chose this image as my favorite of 2009…not entirely anyway. Cathy lives across from an abandoned lot just south of midtown and I kept telling her I wanted to get some shots of her, particularly around sundown. We finally got a chance on a BEAUTIFUL afternoon and this is one of the results. I love this photo because it combines some of my favorite things: a great model, wonderful light, golden glow and an off-center subject. As you can see from the photos above, the golden 70’s glow has become one of my favorite things to shoot. Fortunately, we get about 8 months of that kind of light twice a day here in Houston. Cathy was a good sport as I asked her to stand in an empty field, but she’s also a natural and these photos weren’t just a joy to shoot, they were also remarkably easy.

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8 Comments

  1. 28/12/2009

    Since I was also the one responsible for breaking into Wilshire Village, I’d say that you owe your entire year in photography to me, in fact. I’ll be invoicing you for $1 billion, net 30 days. You’re welcome!

  2. Fulmer
    28/12/2009

    #3 & #5 are my favorites. I especially like that you did not put a neutral density filter on the window for #3. The window provides an almost ethereal light source on the image (plus my bike was stolen too this year so I relate).
    #8 sure tasted good too : )

  3. 28/12/2009

    Love the bokeh on that last one. Looove.

  4. Rebecca
    28/12/2009

    Good lord, Balke! When did you become such an amazing photographer???? These are fantastic! The snow in the cemetery is beautiful – I love the mixing of autumn and winter. And the shot of Cathy is absolutely perfect! She’s a little slice of seventies Ali MacGraw “Love Story” heaven. Bravo!!!!

  5. 28/12/2009

    I always love your photo retrospectives, which inspired me to do my first one years ago. It is fun to see how your photography has subtly changed over time. You already know I’m absolutely in love with Snow Angel. I also find it to be nearly perfect. I look forward to seeing what 2010 brings.

  6. 28/12/2009

    You are a rockstar. This is a terrific collection, Jeff.

    By the way, if you owe Katharine $1 Billion, then you own me at least $5. Just sayin’. ;)

  7. 02/01/2010

    Gorgeous Jeff – all of them!!!! I love the trapeze one especially. And the bicycle. I think of you sometimes when I pass the sign for the Westbury Centerette (It’s at Chimney Rock and I *think* Bissonet). It just look(ed) like something that would be right for your photos. The centerette isn’t really there anymore, just the sign. And it was nicer before Ike took the little circle off the top. But it’s still an interesting sign.

    It’s funny on the portrait one for the Houston Press – I noticed that original photo in the Chronicle and I NEVER notice stuff like that. I just remember wondering if they always took pictures like that, or if it just happened that the new people were pretty, so they took advantage.

  8. James M.
    06/01/2010

    All great photos, Jeff! (Of course, I’m partial to number 2:-)

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