10th Annual Readers’ Photo Contest: Surreal Arizona

June 24, 2020
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 10th Annual PHOENIX magazine

Readers’ Photo Contest

Surreal Arizona

To celebrate a decade of reader-provided photographic aptitude, we asked you to explore your inner Picassos, your hidden Dalis. And these 12 dreamlike portraits of Arizona are what you found.

By Emily M. Dean, Shaena Montanari, Angelica Olivas

From more than 200 submissions, our editors picked the 12 entries that best evinced the “Surreal Arizona” theme. Those dozen photos were then posted on Facebook for a two-week public vote.


Chad Gnant

“I have found great peace from daily life learning how to image the night sky,” says Phoenix architect Chad Gnant. “Grab a lawn chair, extinguish the fire, turn off your headlamps and don’t look at your phone. Just lay back and let your eyes adjust.” This particular photo was taken during a birthday adventure in the Kofa Mountains last fall using a Pentax K1 and a lot of patience. Employing the camera’s time-elapse function, Gnant creates a constellation on the ground to match its partner in the heavens. Find more of Gnant’s work at chadgnant.com.

— Emily M. Dean


John Wagner
“Saguaro in the Snow”

Phoenix-based photographer John Wagner has a yen for portraiture and darkroom processing – and drew from both sensibilities when he captured this dreamily discordant image while hiking outside of Cave Creek last winter. “I brought my camera along because of the snowfall,” Wagner says. “Fresh snow has a way of softening an otherwise harsh environment.” Captured on Wagner’s Hasselblad with a 50mm lens on Kodak film, the giant desert cactus is animated by the snowfall in almost human fashion. Wagner printed the image in his darkroom in Phoenix. View his work at wagnerphotographs.com.

— E.M.D.

Jonathan Huynh
“Moonrise over Four Peaks”

Jonathan Huynh’s favorite aspect of photography is the alternate view it provides “that most people don’t notice in their everyday life.” The Los Angeles-based technology professional captured this view of a moonrise over Downtown Phoenix by using a massive 800mm lens to compress and enlarge the background – a technique known in photography circles as “deep focus.” The result: A seemingly gargantuan moon hovering over the skyline. Huynh shot the photo with a Sony a7R III and used a compositing app called PlanIt! that allows photographers to determine the best shooting location. View more of his photos on Instagram @jonhuynh1.

— E.M.D.


Eve Kronen

A parliament of owls has visited retiree Eve Kronen’s Scottsdale neighborhood every spring for the past four years. When the hooting started in early April, Kronen went out and snapped this portrait of the gimlet-eyed beast with a Sony a6500. “We started looking and, lo and behold, we found Daddy on that palm tree, but we had not yet seen the babies,” she says. Typically associated with conifers and leafy trees, owls sometimes nest in the skirts of tall palms. Still, it was a surreal – and distinctly Arizonan – sight, Kronen thought. “It was really odd to find an owl in a palm tree, especially when across the street we’ve got close to 15 pine trees… I found it very much out of place.”

— Angelica Olivas 


Pam Lindley
“Divine Sighting”

Pam Lindley works as an economic developer in Phoenix and has been practicing photography since childhood. She was lucky enough to have her iPhone 8 on her when she spotted a group of nuns visiting from Michigan hiking at Piestewa Peak two falls ago. “It reminds me of the saying ‘The best camera is the one you have with you,’” Lindley says. She almost missed the once-in-a-lifetime image, humorously evocative of a Nuns Having Fun wall calendar, as she struggled to get her phone out of her pocket while the nuns were weaving their way down the mountain. “Nuns and hiking are two things that are not ever seen together in one shot,” she muses. “I have never and probably will never see something like this shot again.”

— E.M.D.


Anamika Deokar

“Just like the flights at the airports, many other things in life are being canceled right now for everyone because of COVID-19,” says Anamika Deokar, a Tempe resident and customer service agent for Boutique Air. She shot this haunting scene of an all-but-abandoned airport in April 2020 with a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. “The runways were constantly busy with aircrafts taxiing in and out of the gates,” at Terminal 3 at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, she says, but now the tarmac is a perfect portrait of stillness due to the pandemic.

— Shaena Montanari



Dave Donovan Dizon
“Arizona Gem”

This craned-neck view of Antelope Canyon caught Dave Donovan Dizon’s eye because it almost looked like it was carved by hand. “In this case, that sculptor happens to be Mother Nature,” he says. The Phoenix-based IT analyst took this dreamily textured photo of the iconic geologic landmark in November 2019 with a Nikon D610 – one of more than 100 images of this particular formation in the canyon he shot that day. “I had no words at the time to describe this as I was in complete awe, and instead just kept pressing the shutter button.”

— S.M.

Scott Cook
“Upside Down”

Scott Cook, a hospitality manager in Mesa, loves getting out to shoot in the rain because it’s so rare in Arizona. During a rainstorm this past winter, he went prowling for images but found the drab, cloudy skyscape uninspiring. So he got creative and aimed his Sony a73 groundward, where he found the reflection of the fabled Westward Ho in a slick of water. “When you first look at it, you have to look at it for a second before you can really understand what’s going on,” he says. “You don’t really know which way is up. It kind of plays a trick on you.”

— A.O.


Bob Klassen
“Black and White”

After retiring from a 30-year career in sports medicine, Tempe resident Bob Klassen now enjoys observing local nature through the lens of his Nikon D7500. Armed with a newly purchased camera, he headed to the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert at dusk last winter and captured this elegant, naturally symmetrical reflection of contrasting birds. The dusk light highlighted the flying insects, Klassen says, and “drew my eye straight to the juxtaposition of this white great egret and black Neotropic cormorant.”

— S.M

Phyllis Peterson
“Holiday Balloon Glow”

Phyllis Peterson is a retired teacher, but now volunteers as a photographer for Province Life magazine in Maricopa. She attended the Holiday Balloon Glow in Gilbert in December with her son and grandkids, and snapped this photo on a Nikon D810. “The balloons are so incredibly vibrant and colorful that they catch everybody’s eye,” she says. “They’re not your typical reality.” About 10 minutes after she took this photo, it started raining and all of the balloons went down just as quickly as they went up.

—  A.O.


Jay Larson
“Rain or Fire?”

Mountain biking in East Mesa near the lower part of the Salt River in April, Valley podiatrist Jay Larson looked up and saw one of the most stunning sunsets he’d ever laid eyes on – an optical illusion of sorts marrying water vapor with low-angle sunlight, with a striking flame effect as their offspring. Excited, he pulled out his iPhone 11 Pro Max. “It just started downpouring right as the sun was going down. I was soaking wet, the rain was coming down, and through the rain was the setting sun… It looked like these huge flames, but it was rain, and most people don’t think of Arizona as [a] rain[y place].”

— A.O.


Steve Weiss
“When No One Was Looking”

Steve Weiss, a professional photographer and lifelong Phoenician, captured this cryptic image of a park bench in Encanto Park on an uncharacteristically foggy winter morning. The bench appears to have moved on its own, Weiss says, until you catch a glimpse of a phantasmagoric human figure in the background. He concocted the shot with a Leica M3, loaded with black-and-white film. “It’s always gratifying to see something wonderfully magical,” Weiss says, adding that he enjoys transferring that experience to the viewer. Find his work at candidlandscapes.com.

— S.M.


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