It’s nearly impossible to narrow down a whole year’s work into a neat little 10-photo package.

You helped, a lot, by filling my inbox with thoughts and suggestions about the 50 pictures I had narrowed down as candidates for this Top 10 list.

Below, I’ve compiled my Top 10 pictures of 2010, given some thoughts about why they’re on the list and shared your comments.

1.) Har Sin: By far my favorite story to work on this year was about Har Sin, a young refugee from Burma who came to San Diego hoping that doctors could fix his deaf ears.

When he arrived, he was horribly disappointed to find out that his hearing couldn’t be fixed. But a resettlement worker soon introduced him to sign language, and he began the long journey to communication.

Adrian Florido and I watched as Har Sin learned to communicate formally for the first time in his life. This was a simple quiet picture — Har Sin sitting on the floor in his family’s City Heights apartment, watching American Gladiators. Outside the apartment were the typical screeches of young refugee children at play. But Har Sin couldn’t hear any of this.

Here’s what reader Sara Honadle had to say about the shot:

Before I even started clicking (through the 50 finalists), I had the mental image of the shot of Har Sin @ home, forlornly watching tv. It remains a favorite — so poignant. The Har Sin shots so vividly accompanied the story series that they’re intricately woven in my memory.

2.)Josefina: It wasn’t easy to take this photo.

I sat for a long time in the living room of Josefina Perez as Florido interviewed her. She was devastated that her husband had recently been deported and that she and her children would soon have to leave their Linda Vista home as well.

It was one of those rare assignments where every click of the camera drives home the tension in the room. I tried to make as few frames as possible while still getting a storytelling picture. At one point, Josefina leaned into the shoulder of her oldest son and began weeping. I knew I had a photo I liked, but didn’t exactly leave the assignment overjoyed.

3.) Hay Chay: He’s a Cambodian refugee who helped found a community garden 26 years ago in southeastern San Diego. The farmers were recently removed from the land, as a local nonprofit that leased it renegotiated their agreement with the city, which owns the land. Here’s how I summed up this picture when I presented it in November.

I knew that for Adrian Florido’s story, I’d want photos of Chay alongside Ourn Lun, who toiled on the land until the farmers were evicted this past summer.

But first, I lifted my camera and shot one frame of Chay. That was all it took. I didn’t need any fancy lights or camera techniques. His expression, his demeanor, his calm in front of the camera and his face told the story without much work on my end. One frame was all it took.

4.) Mitsuhiro: Many people inspired me this year, from fellow photographers to friends and family to story subjects.

Mitsuhiro Iwamoto was infinitely inspiring. Blind since he was a teenager, Iwamoto has long had to navigate the world with the help of a friend, a cane, or both.

But on a sailboat, he feels his way around the boat using the lifelines along the side and his memory. He’s hoping to sail across the Pacific Ocean with only one other sailor on board.

Jen Hartmann of Pacific Beach e-mailed in with these thoughts about the image:

This picture is worth a thousand words, but I’ll keep it brief. He is at once relaxed with an expectant mien, exhilarated yet serene, gifted with a scarlet sunset. The sail is full, the sun rising high, bright and warming, the wind steady, the swell gentle and endless, the sky bright blue with lazily cottoned clouds in the distance. This photo captures what I feel when I think of my sailing experiences, it’s brilliant.

5.) Chihuly and The Stream of Life: When I was exploring artist Dale Chihuly’s exhibition at the Salk Institute, I worked to try to get as many layers as possible into the photo.

This one stood out to me for its color, composition and depth. But really, I just love the amazing art piece in the center of the picture, right at the end of the Salk Institute’s “Stream of Life.” It’s fitting that it made this year’s list, as 2010 is the year we launched our new arts coverage.

6.) Dredging, But Not Monitoring: When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told Adrian Florido that they had someone standing by a dredging pipe around the clock, monitoring its discharge, we had a simple idea: go see if that was true.

It turned out, it wasn’t. When we arrived at the pipe, there were tractors working, but nobody standing next to the pipe. Residents had been concerned about junk that was coming out of the pipe onto the beach. After we wrote this story, Florido checked back and found the organization had put someone on the job.

Former City Councilwoman Donna Frye told me on a couple of occasions how much she enjoyed this photo. She e-mailed in with her thoughts as well.

“So awesome in the beauty of the photo even though they were pretty much ignoring their contract … lots of irony there,” she wrote

7.) Donna and Jerry: Speaking of Frye, the picture of her hugging Mayor Jerry Sanders was as unexpected as it was refreshing.

I’ll never forget that when they went for the hug, I quickly moved into position and rattled off a few frames. I put my camera down and looked around the room. Staffers from council offices and the Mayor’s Office were all looking at me, beaming. Their eyes all asked the same question: “Did you get the shot?” I looked down at the display on the back of my camera and saw that it was sharp. I nodded my head and they smiled.

“Who would have ever thought Donna Frye and Jerry Sanders would embrace,” wrote Kathi Spittel of Mira Mesa.

Sara Honadle, who chimed in about the Har Sin photo, had this to say:

“I also love the photos of Donna hugging Sanders & her crystal ball photo, but that could just be because any photo of her makes me happy.”

8.) The Chicken: This shoot was just too much fun.

Having grown up in San Diego, I’ve seen many performances by The Chicken. It was an honor to spend some time roaming Qualcomm Stadium, looking for pockets of light, and letting The Chicken be The Chicken.

I really enjoyed this quote about the image from reader Jason Everitt:

When mascots die, this is what they see calling them to the pearly gates of mascot heaven.

9.) Peas in a Pod: This wasn’t necessarily my favorite photo, but it got more positive response over the year than just about anything else I’ve shot.

It was for an Emily Alpert story about the “quantam leap” of test scores at Mann Middle School.

It wasn’t the perfect photo to illustrate the story, but with the juxtaposition of the teacher and student’s Mohawks, it had a great home in my blog.

10.) Homeless in PB: People really like photos of dogs. Cute little puppies sell newspapers. But that’s not why the media exists.

James Nachtwey, who’s chronicled countless conflicts around the world, said in the movie War Photographer:

“We must look at it. We’re required to look at it. We’re required to do what we can about it. If we don’t, who will.”

Readers seemed to share that sentiment when looking at this photo of a homeless man, sleeping on the streets of Pacific Beach.

From Jennifer White in Mission Valley:

(It’s) is a must see for every San Diegan, even though we probably want to turn away -the reality that is just 1 person lying in the street who represents what the bottom priority seems to be-helping the helpless, not helping the developers and gov’t officials that want to build something.

From Jen Hartmann in Pacific Beach:

The mural appears to be from the late 1930s, the final years of the Great Depression. Could this man have lost his job during the current Global Economic Crisis, one of the 10% of unemployed San Diegans? Will his fate be our fate? Will he walk away from the Recession and towards recovery like the woman in the mural?

I loved chronicling our community this year and can’t wait to get back at it in 2011. If you have photo story ideas, or thoughts on how our photography can be improved, contact me directly at or 619.550.5664. Of course, you can always follow him on Twitter as well:

Sam Hodgson

Sam Hodgson is a freelance photojournalist and contributor to Voice of San Diego. You can contact him at

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