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When I take time to reflect on a year, the first place I always go is into the depths of my photo archives.

Looking at 12 months worth of pictures is always a reminder at just how much happens, and changes in a year.

In 2011, I had the privilege of documenting San Diegans in their element. From occupiers at the Civic Center and endangered school nurses to community members coming together during the blackout, this year taught us so much about who we are as a region.

It’s a huge challenge to narrow down a year’s worth of photography into 11 pictures. I’ve made my choices — for now. And, I know that tomorrow, I’ll be second-guessing those decisions.

But after this post, it’s time to look forward to a new year and a new body of work. Undoubtedly, 2012 will bring a whole new set of stories and adventures.

For now, here are the top 11 images of 2011, and why they made the cut:

This year, I got the privilege to document a new beat for VOSD. Along with Kelly Bennett, I explored San Diego’s diverse arts community.

My favorite image of the year came during a press tour of the “Phenomenal” exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.

During the tour, Leah Masterson, a communications associate with the museum, shimmied her way down Bruce Nauman’s “Green Light Corridor,” an exhibit that alters one’s sense of color. This was the last frame on my memory card, and I waited to fire until just the right moment.

I have to credit Adrian Florido for helping me select this frame in the first place.

The woman in the photo is Amaal Al Mifraji, an Iraqi refugee who was denied welfare assistance because resettlement money she received from the federal government pushed her above the income limit.

The county failed to refer her to a special welfare program designed for refugees.

I had photographed a tight shot of her face that I thought would convey the story. Florido pointed out the importance of her empty apartment and the couch she was sitting on.

She was concerned that she’d have to sell the couch — one of her only worldly possessions, to get by unless the problem was resolved.

When the lights went out for me and 1.4 million other SDG&E customers, I scrambled all over the city to try to tell the story.

But it wasn’t until I slowed my mind a bit and stopped by a friend’s bonfire that I got the most telling photo of the evening.

The blackout brought the community together. People were out in the streets, hanging out with their neighbors. Sean Bohan, above, was taking in the warmth of the bonfire outside his cousins’ house in North Park.

Try riding the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster in Mission Beach.

OK, now try riding backwards.

That was my task for a story we did in partnership with San Diego Magazine about the folks who keep the coaster safe.

I rode along with 9-year-old Daniella Melendez and 10-year-old Jessica Hamilton as the coaster ripped along the tracks.

Bette Ferguson was a blast to hang out with.

The 92-year-old plans to donate her brain to science when she dies. Claire Trageser told the story, and I got to hang out with Bette in her Mission Hills apartment.

When the shoot was done, Bette poured me a glass of wine and we watched Bill O’Reilly together. It’s times like these when you remember what a gift it is to be allowed into the homes of this city’s residents.

Shortly after taking over the Civic Center Plaza, tragedy struck at Occupy San Diego.

The small community that had formed watched as a man plummeted to his death from a parking structure adjacent to their encampment.

When I arrived, Occupy organizer Abel Thomas was embracing a fellow protester, Sophia Kahn. It was a somber scene and was a trying moment for the local movement.

To illustrate a story about how Somali women in San Diego are increasingly becoming licensed daycare providers, I headed out to a training in City Heights.

What I found when I arrived was a group of engaged Somali women learning the ropes of CPR. Obtaining a daycare license can significantly boost the income of these women.

From the moment Liam Dillon told me about this story, I was so excited. He told me that every year thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses scrub Qualcomm Stadium clean before a massive prayer ceremony.

Here’s how I described the experience at the time:

I’ve had the chance to document Qualcomm Stadium as a season began and as a season ended. I’ve photographed The Q in times of celebration and in moments of defeat. I’ve even flown above the stadium to get aerial images.

Never did I think I’d find myself in a Qualcomm Stadium bathroom on a Saturday, alongside my friend Liam Dillon, interviewing one of the thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses who scrubs the stadium each year.

For a story about the “Endandgered School Nurse” Emily Alpert and I tagged along with Owen, a first grader with diabetes.

I waited as La Jolla Elementary nurse Cheri Amati prepared to give him an insulin shot and he took in a book about bats. At the time of the story, Amati’s position was in danger of being cut and the school would have to rely on a team of roving nurses, instead.

It had been almost a year since Adrian Florido and I first profiled Har Sin, a refugee from Burma who came to the United States deaf and with the hope that someone would fix his hearing.

In that first profile, we found a young man learning to formally communicate for the first time. When we followed up this year, we found great progress. While Har Sin still walked and communicated with his characteristic swagger, something also clearly was changing about him.

When he communicated, like he’s doing above at a sign language meetup in Mission Valley, he did so with conviction and determination.

This final image isn’t about one specific story or piece of journalism. This is just a simple reflection photo. But it serves as a reminder that photos are out there everywhere.

While having a beer in January at my neighborhood bar, I saw this reflection in a nearby storefront. I jumped to my feet and ran across the street to make a few quick pictures.

The image wound up running on the front of the photography site A Photo A Day and sold at the Museum of Photographic Arts’ first print auction.

It was the first frame I really enjoyed of 2011, which turned out to be a fantastic year of discovery in this community.

I’m a freelance photojournalist and contributor to You can contact me at

Sam Hodgson

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

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