As chief visual journalist at the Palo Alto Weekly, one of my earliest assignments of 2021 was to photograph seniors in East Palo Alto receiving their vaccinations against COVID-19. That moment was a turning point in my coverage of the pandemic: Knowing that the vulnerable people I was photographing were now protected from the deadly virus felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
I had spent most of the previous year fearing that I could catch, carry and spread the virus without knowing it.
While I no longer methodically sanitized my camera equipment and showered and changed my clothes at the end of each work day, I continued double masking wherever I went, and the majority of my shoots remained outdoors.
By the start of May, I had completed my two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which allowed me into spaces and situations I hadn't been in for over a year. I now felt safe photographing hundreds of people marching through downtown Palo Alto demanding an end to hate crimes against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. And I was allowed into a retirement community to capture residents hugging their children and grandchildren for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
In the second half of the year after California reopened, some of my coverage began diverging from the pandemic-related news stories that had dominated the past 16 months as businesses, local governments and people shifted their attention to other issues. I scaled the sides of local reservoirs with a telephoto lens and a drone to photograph the dire local drought conditions. I photographed two entrepreneurs crafting beer recipes out of one of their garages.
Life almost seemed back to normal.
Things aren't back to the way they were, obviously, and it feels like the "new normal" (excuse the overused phrase) may actually be upon us. We're living in a world where there is a constant threat of new COVID-19 variants, such as omicron, but in which we've adapted to and are able to do many of the things we did pre-pandemic.
These images illustrate how our community has come back together over the last 12 months to celebrate, learn, protest, mourn and innovate. Take a look.
Palo Alto Online is taking one last look at 2021 all this week. If you missed any parts of our series, see the links below:
• In a year marked by rapid adjustments, Palo Alto advanced some key goals but fell short on others
• Local education leaders look back on 2021
• A peek back at the top 10 most-read stories in Palo Alto over the past 12 months
• Can you ace this 21-question quiz about 2021 local news?