In 2012, San Diegans made a lot of important decisions about the future of the region, including electing a new mayor and continuing the conversation about the future of Balboa Park.

What follows is a small snapshot of the storylines I had the chance to follow this year for Voice of San Diego.

The Mayor’s Grand Exit

Mayor Jerry Sanders’ final State of the City address in January had all the makings of a victory lap, complete with a raucous video introduction and triumphant statements about San Diego’s finances. This was his opportunity to define his legacy in his own terms.

I’ve photographed Sanders perhaps more than I’ve photographed my own family, so it’s always challenging trying to get something new and original. Usually, I try to position myself to remove distractions like a glowing exit sign from the frame. But this time, it caught my eye and the symbolism stuck out. Sanders made the gesture right as I composed the photo like this.

City Heights’ Refugees

A storyline that I’ve followed over my years as a San Diego photojournalist is the lives of refugees in City Heights. It’s the most beautiful neighborhood in the city precisely because it’s the epitome of a melting pot. This photo was important to me because of the symbolism, the colors and the construction of the frame.

This was part of a story by Will Carless about the implications of a shorter school year. The woman in the right of the frame, Sudanese refugee Fatima Abdelrahman, would have to spend much more time keeping a watchful eye over her children, as they crammed into her small duplex or ran the streets of City Heights.

But this frame to me spoke more about hope and the growth of young families in the United States.

Nathan Fletcher: Independent

To his supporters, he’s the one that got away.

Nathan Fletcher’s background as a Marine, his love of surfing and all things San Diego and his smooth demeanor had many important politicos thinking he had a shot at the Mayor’s Office.

Of course, he came up short in the primary, but not before providing my favorite (and earliest) Election Day photo-op of the year. Fletcher and a group of supporters got up at the crack of dawn to go for a quick surf before the hysteria of the day broke loose. It was a quintessentially San Diego moment.

The City’s Crown Jewel

The discussion over the future of Balboa Park is one that will be around for a long time. Throughout the year, Kelly Bennett provided great coverage about the past, present and future of the park (You can see the best of it, with a lot of Balboa Park photos, in this month’s VOSD Magazine).

This image was made prior to the City Council’s decision on whether to go forward with the controversial Plaza de Panama project. It conveys a small sense of the challenge of trying to fight City Hall.

Poway’s Big Bond

Ask any photojournalist to shoot a story on capital appreciation bonds, and watch their eyes glaze over. It’s a tough thing to make visual. But what was important about this story was the impact it had on the residents of Poway, who will eventually be saddled with the large interest payments on a controversial bond our Will Carless shed light on this year. I put myself right at eye level for this image, trying to bring the viewer into the meeting, while showing the frustrations of the crowd.

Getting Out the Vote

Polling places make for awkward shooting encounters. There’s always inevitably a scuffle with poll workers about whether you’re allowed to shoot pictures, followed by a fumbling conversation with each individual voter about whether they’re OK with being photographed and then a few quick moments to make a frame.

I knew that whether the neighborhoods south of Interstate 8 came out to vote would have a big impact on election outcomes. So I spent a fair amount of time at the Mid City Police Station in City Heights. I wanted a photo that had color, life and layers, but the drab white walls weren’t cooperating. I also wanted a photo that showed how this neighborhood’s population could be such a crucial factor in the vote. When this group of women walked in with their colorful head scarves and their excitement to vote, I knew it could be an image that told the story of the day.

Har Sin’s Growing Family

For years now, my friend and former VOSD reporter Adrian Florido and I have been checking in with Har Sin, a deaf refugee from Burma who came to the U.S. hoping someone could fix his hearing. We’ve watched as Har Sin made progress with sign language and began to integrate himself into U.S. culture.

But one of the striking things we found out when we visited his family earlier this year is how it had grown. Two of Har Sin’s nephews had married, and their wives were now living in the small two-bedroom apartment in City Heights. As I wrote on my personal blog: “Now, with Har Sin in the home, his sister Ah Lee Mar, her husband Mat Sa Pi, their five children and their sons’ two wives, there were now 10 people living in their small two bedroom apartment.”

Ever since we met Har Sin’s family, we’ve watched the family’s apartment become fuller by the day. We’ve seen them move forward — learning English, navigating tax filings, getting Facebook accounts — but the packed apartment speaks to the financial challenges they still face. It’s yet another image documenting the refugee experience in our city.

The Big Bay Bust

Who could forget what could be described as the most awesome or the most pathetic fireworks display ever? I shot this frame at Bird Park in North Park while we all awaited the Fourth of July fireworks. Everyone at the park stood around for about half an hour before realizing that the extravaganza at the beginning of the show was the show.

The Toll of Politics

Ever since Carl DeMaio lost his mayoral bid to rival Bob Filner, he’s talked candidly about the toll politics can take on a family. It’s an often-overlooked aspect of the profession, but one that you can see clearly on the face of his partner Johnathan Hale as DeMaio announced his concession to Filner.

The New Mayor’s Personality

Earlier this month, I detailed the free-flowing personality of San Diego’s new mayor. I didn’t guide this picture. Filner volunteered to lie down in a reverse-plank position to drive home a point about the lack of planning in the city. I’ve spent a lot of time around both Filner and his predecessor Jerry Sanders, and it’s clear that this mayor will provide plenty of reasons to keep my camera ready.

Sam Hodgson is a freelance photojournalist and contributor to Voice of San Diego. You can contact him at and check out his work on his website.

Disclosure: Voice of San Diego members and supporters may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover. For a complete list of our contributors, click here.

Sam Hodgson

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

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