Monthly Archives: January 2012

Egret Catching Fish, 3 Sept 2007


Chrissy Field, San Francisco Presidio, San Francisco, CA. Nikon D40, Landscape Mode

Good Evening:

Mother Nature can prove quite uncooperative with amateur photographers. During one foggy morning in 2007, I explored the restored habitat near Chrissy Field in the Presidio on San Francisco’s north shore between Fort Point and the Marina District when I espied this egret on the prowl for breakfast. Now here was a challenge; photographing an egret in the act of catching a fish. I don’t know what musculature one might find in the necks of these birds, but you can stare at them, never take your eyes off them, never blink, and still not see them when they strike: they move that fast.

San Francisco’s Presidio used to be a polluted mess dating back to its military days. I’m proud to write that I briefly temped at International Technology, the company that restored the habitat. To give you an idea of how good that firm is, if you planted a multi-vitamin with zinc anywhere in the 1,480 acres of land, they had the device that would find it. Then they would have to remove the vitamin because technically a multi-vitamin with zinc is a pollutant. Ironic, isn’t it?

So the fact that birds find enough food to live there is astonishing; the restoration succeeded that well. I wanted to photograph an example of that success, as represented by the egret. However, I took over a hundred pictures in the effort to record a successful strike and failed every time. They are–just–that–fast. Fortunately, digital cameras and their blessed delete buttons will reward pure dumb stubbornness sooner of later, and I nailed a strike with the above picture. If you look closely, you can see a small silvery fish struggling in the egret’s beak. Sometimes Luck = Persistence plus, well, plus nothing. Sometimes luck is nothing but persistence.

Vonn Scott Bair

Civil War, Family Style


Good Evening:

My father has been a fan of the New York Giants since the 1950s. I’ve been a fan of the San Francisco 49ers since I moved to my city 8 days before the Red & Gold won their first Super Bowl. You know what that means–civil war, family style.

Way back in the 1980s, the 49ers and Giants frequently engaged in brutal low-scoring defensive masterpieces on Monday Night Football. During the 1988 defensive masterpiece, the Giants finally cracked the Niner defense and scored a touchdown to take a 17-13 lead with less than two minutes to go. During commercials, I received a phone call from Dad. “This is the Giants’ year, they are going back to the Super Bowl, San Francisco fought a good game, but they just can’t beat the Giants this year,” et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. I played the role of the good sport in defeat (perhaps my greatest acting job ever, and this was 8 years before I even discovered acting), agreed with everything Dad said, but then the commercials ended and we hung up so we could both watch the (for me, bitter) end.

The second I sat down, on 4th and 10 from the 22, Joe Montana threw a 78 touchdown pass to Jerry Rice. And San Francisco won 20-17.

And the phone rang. I thought, “That can’t be Dad.” And it wasn’t.

It was Mom.

But I could hear Dad in the background, shouting, “I don’t want to talk to him! I don’t want to talk to him! I don’t want to talk to him!”

But he eventually did, and I played the role of the good sport in victory (no wait, perhaps that was my greatest acting job ever). Since then, whenever the Niners and Giants play, the Bair whose team loses has to call the winner and take the punishment. There’ve been a few exceptions. After that berserk 39-38 playoff win, I called Dad and told him the refs robbed the Giants–which even the NFL admits was the truth. Also, during a NY-SF regular season game at Candlestick several years ago, I bought Dad tickets for his birthday. The Giants won 24-6 (Brandon Jacobs: 5 carries, 3 yards, 2 touchdowns), and I didn’t need to call him; he was sitting next to me.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–One of the two teams did win the Super Bowl that season: San Francisco beat the Cincinnati Bengals for the second time with the aid of The Drive II.

PPS–Dad was very gracious when I called today, legitimately gracious; he prefers to see his team win by virtue of their inherent superiority rather than watch their opponents blunder and lose.

A Question of, and a Contrast of, Perspectives


Good Evening:

My first digital camera was a Nikon Coolpix 4300 that I bought in 2003 for $339, at a time when people would say, “You got a 4.3. megapixel camera for only $339?!” On one of my earliest photographic expeditions, I walked down to San Francisco’s Marina District for a few shots of the Bay. Here is one, guest-starring our very iconic Golden Gate Bridge.

It’s not a bad picture of not a bad San Francisco sunset. I used the Landscape mode, which Nikon has always done well and has become my default setting on any camera. Frankly, I’ve never really mastered the manual controls on any of my cameras, because I’ve never really had the time. But what do you think of the mood of the picture? Seems very quiet and peaceful, doesn’t it? Calm, serene. Now look at this picture:

Rather a different feeling, isn’t it? Turbulent, even violent, as if there’s a fire or explosion beyond the hills. Actually, what’s really behind the hills is several thousand miles of Pacific Ocean. What has always interested me about this picture is that it is the exact same scene as the first picture, just a few seconds later. Check out the lower left-hand corner of the top photo. The only difference between the two pictures is that the first one zooms all the way out, and the second one zooms all the way in. And yet, the result, and the effect upon the viewer, is very different. ‘Tis indeed instructive how two faithful, unedited, gimmick-free pictures of a scene can lead to results so different, and this pair of pictures never fails to make me reflect upon perspective, accuracy and truth in photography.

Vonn Scott Bair

Can You Identify the Celebrity?


Photo Taken 6/29/2007 at 6:15:45 p.m. with a Nikon Coolpix 4300

Good Evening:

Quite the large crowd, isn’t it? Doesn’t it make you wonder exactly who the superstar, the big-time celebrity, might be? Is it San Francisco 49ers legend Joe Montana? Giants legend Willie Mays? A surviving member of the Grateful Dead? A Hollywood megastar? Former President of the United States Bill Clinton? The reincarnation of legendary 19th Century icon Norton I, Emperor of these United States of America and Protector of Mexico? Take a moment to study the picture to see if you can locate and identify the celebrity in question, and then scroll down for clues and the answer. I hope you will find the puzzle amusing.

Vonn Scott Bair

First clue: you already know that it must take place in San Francisco; after all, this is The San Francisco Seen. You also know the date and time.

Second clue: look at the reflections in the glass. Among other things, you will see the words Stockton, Ross Dress for Less, and Megastore. San Franciscans will recognize at once that the location is Stockton and Market Street, across from the shuttered Virgin Megastore and the Ross discount clothing store.

Third clue: look at the point at which all of the cameras and heads are pointed. It is below the second vertical line from the left at the top of the picture.

Final clue: the vertical lines at the top of the photograph can mean only thing–this is the front of the Stockton Street Apple Store.

Therefore, this huge crowd has not gathered for a glimpse and/or photograph of a human being. See the small black box with the white front in the background above the blonde woman’s head? That is the first Apple iPhone that was ever sold in San Francisco.

San Francisco Yerba Buena Center for the Arts at Dusk, 8 January 2012, 6:34 p.m.


Nikon S9100

Good Evening:

Believe it or not, this is an unedited photograph capturing the actual lighting conditions at dusk. The YBCA likes to train colored lights on its buildings and sculptures at night, and the biggest challenges consisted of finding a stable base for my camera and the right settings. Oddly enough, the standard Landscape setting produced this shot.

Vonn Scott Bair

Friday Night & Free Enterprise on San Francisco’s 71-Limited


Good Evening:

Even in laid-back San Francisco, the evening commute home is usually filled with people decompressing after a tough day at work. Breathing out the stress, breathing back in their sanity, that sort of thing. Well, one young gentleman wearing a San Francisco Giants hoodie sat in the very last row in the back of the 71-Limited at 5:00 pm, and he wanted to help. He really, truly and verily wanted to serve humanity, to help make people’s lives better, to help them relax after a tense day. He really, truly wanted to make our lives better. He also wanted to make a buck.

So using the hearty phony bonhomie of a radio commercial announcer, he made his marketing pitch:

“Did you have a rough day today? Are you feeling just too d—ed stressed? Don’t you wish that you could just relax? Well, I have the answer to all your problems.”

Now he held up a clear plastic sandwich bag filled with the true San Francisco Treat.

“Smoke weed–and blow your troubles away.”

My stop had arrived, so I had to depart, but as I left, I did observe a few people furtively checking their wallets and purses and glancing around at the other people furtively checking their wallets and purses.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–How can you not love free enterprise?

Impromptu Seminars on the 7-Haight


Good Evening:

My family has one huge ongoing cultural war: my parents and sister love New York City, and I love them despite their flaw. But back in 1990, my sister decided that she wanted to give San Francisco a try, to see if perhaps she could live here.

I showed her around the city, focusing on the everyday, non-touristy aspects of life in SF, which meant that one fine weekend afternoon we sat in the back of the now-defunct 7-Haight bus headed for the legendary Haight-Ashbury (I suppose there isn’t much of the city that isn’t touristy, but there is a lot that is legendary). She had been in SF for about a week, and since she was a New Yorker, she already had her opinions of the place, and since she was a New Yorker, this included her very own pet peeve. All current and former New Yorkers have their very own personal pet peeves.

“Vonn, there is one thing about San Francisco that I absolutely cannot stand. It’s your bus riders.”

“Bus riders?!”

“Every bus I’ve ridden in, some total stranger has started a conversation with me. I don’t want total strangers starting conversations with me on the bus. In New York City, people don’t bother you on the bus. They leave you alone, and that’s how I like it, but you San Franciscans, you total strangers just have to start talking to other people, whether the other people want to or not.”

The total stranger immediately to my sister’s right said, “It’s true, San Franciscans are more social than other people. I’ve lived in a lot of cities with public transit, and everyone is so uptight in other cities.”

The total stranger immediately to the total stranger’s right said, “Actually, have you been to Seattle?”

“No,” said the first total stranger.

“People on the bus in Seattle can be very friendly, too.”

A third total stranger said, “Has anyone ridden public transit in other countries?”

A fourth total stranger said, “People on the London Underground can be friendly, but you have to speak first, otherwise they won’t say anything.”

A fifth total stranger said, “Have you ever been to Australia? People are generally friendly there.”

Soon, about ten total strangers were conducting their own seminar on the Overall Loquaciousness of Public Transit Patrons in Major Cities in English Speaking Nations. I looked at my sister. She had rested her elbows on her knees and her face in her hands. She kept mumbling the same sentence over and over: “I had to say something. I had to say something. I had to say something…”

She moved back to New York City.

Cyanotype: San Francisco Botanical Garden, 16 January 2011


Cyanotype, Early Morning at the San Francisco Botanical Garden, 16 January 2011

San Francisco weather can prove most uncooperative; it forced me to wait nearly two months before giving me exactly the sort of even, thick fog cover to produce just the light for my experiment. I wanted to see what the Cyanotype setting of the Nikon D40 DSLR could produce. I was also inspired by 17th-19th Century Japanese landscapes. I’ve done very little editing of the original file, reducing only the darkest shadows using the controls in iPhoto.

I Do Not Understand Reality, Special Dum Dums ™ Edition


Good Evening:

I hold in my hand the wrapper of the signature product of the Spangler Candy Company, a Dum Dums ™ lollipop. They are free for the taking at the Wells Fargo branch located in the Upper Haight, near the intersection with Cole Street. But this is no ordinary signature product of the Spangler Candy Company, a Dum Dums ™ lollipop. This is not the classic raspberry, strawberry, root beer, or other flavor.

This is, and I quote, the “artificial MYSTERY FLAVOR” signature product of the Spangler Candy Company, a Dum Dums ™ lollipop.

So I stare at this thing, and I have to ask myself: what might be a “natural MYSTERY FLAVOR?”

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–In answer to your question, if I could describe the taste, it wouldn’t be a mystery, now would it?

PPS–All right, all right; orange-ish, papaya-ish, and mango-ish. Somewhat. Kind of. Sort of.

PPPS–Happy New Year!

First sent to my friends on November 18, 2011