Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Reflection of the Old Within the New, 18 February 2012

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Good Evening:

One thing at which San Francisco excels is really bad modern architecture. I don’t enjoy bemoaning my beloved home town, but some of the buildings are comically goofy. Here’s a new one at Geary & Post:

18 February 2012, 10:55 a.m., Nikon Coolpix S9100, Landscape Mode

It’s pretty bad, isn’t it? But take a closer look at the glass, and you will see the reflection of one of the city’s classic old office buildings. I can’t help it, some unusual scenes fascinate me. I’ve taken close to 100 pictures of this reflection, and I’m not bored of it yet. The challenges are interesting. The reflection is brightest at noon, but the shadow you see on the right edge of the older building covers most of it. You can see the building without the shadow in the morning, but sometimes the sunlight isn’t strong enough to show off the reflection.

So I’ll keep going back on and off to try for that perfect shot. This one is pretty good, revealing a lot of detail about the older building with only a little shadow on the edge. It’s almost symbolic; the old literally overshadowed, literally just a reflection of itself.

Vonn Scott Bair

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Ocean Beach Sunset #226, 25 February 2012

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Nikon D40 DSLR, Landscape Mode

Good Morning:

I wanted to experiment with using time-lapse photography to create video, and San Francisco’s Ocean Beach at sunset is a great place for photographers to play mad scientist with their camers. For an inspiring example of what you can do, visit “The Mountain” by tesophotrography at YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rk6_hdRtJOE.

Among many other things, I learned that an intervalometer is a great addition to a photographer’s toolbox; using the timer on my iPhone to snap a picture every 15 seconds gets a bit tedious. Probably should have taken advantage of low tide to get as close to the water as possible, too. But I did manage to collect roughly 270 pictures, or about 9 seconds of video. This one, of course, is #226. Since the subject was a Pacific Ocean sunset, some of the stills turned out halfway decently. I like this one because it shows how a human being can provide both scale and context for the entire scene.

Vonn Scott Bair

A Second-Rate (Third-Rate?) Homage to Henri Cartier-Bresson

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Good Evening:

I’ve always liked photography, but before I actually took up photography, the one photographer I never could understand was Henri Cartier-Bresson. Ansel Adams, of course. Dorothea Lange, sure. But Cartier-Bresson? His pictures always looked like nothing more than snapshots, not even in focus. I mean, come on, a blurry picture of Alberto Giacometti? The sculptures are in focus, but not the sculptor?! How is that great art? Thus I “reasoned” back then.

So when I finally started taking my own pictures, it seemed to me that the best way to figure out why everyone appreciated HC-B was to go out and try to take the same kind of pictures as the great man. If you want to learn what makes an artist great, just try and copy him or her.

That was my first good photography idea in a long, long time. One fine day (May 13, 2007, to be exact) I visited Golden Gate Park and tried to take Cartier-Bresson pictures. One area in Golden Gate Park, between the tennis courts and the children’s playground, has been the home of a decades-old drum circle that gathers every Saturday and Sunday and performs non-stop for hours on end. Oh, a tabla or conga player might take a break to smoke a joint (a cigarette? In San Francisco? Are you kidding me?), but the percussion doesn’t end. Seemed like exactly the sort of subject that would draw the great man’s attention. I set my camera to B&W mode and went to work.

I learned my lesson. Oh, did I ever learn my lesson. Henri Cartier-Bresson was every bit the genius people say he was. Out of close to one hundred pictures, two were maybe good enough to stand out as second-rate (or third-rate) tributes to the man’s photographic artistry. Here is the first.

The Mask at the Park, 13 May 2007

Eh, not bad. I like how people usually need a moment or two to figure out where the mask is placed.

The next picture actually comes almost sort of somewhat mildly close to capturing Cartier-Bresson’s concept called The Decisive Moment. I was snapping pictures of the drummers at random when this happened:

The White Cap, 13 May 2007

The composition–completely by accident–focuses on the gentleman in the back facing the camera, wearing a white cap. There are a number of reasons why. The line of percussion instruments in the center, and the line of heads to the left, both lead directly to him. The walkway on the left and the circle on the right both point at him, and the heavyset person in the striped shirt seems to be walking directly at him. But the big reason you notice the man is because of his white cap. But the only reason you notice the white cap is because of the dark shirt of the man who just happened to walk behind our subject at the exact moment I randomly snapped the picture. The decisive moment.

But this decisive moment was decisively a complete accident. Cartier-Bresson? He didn’t have accidents. He didn’t have digital cameras either. Imagine what a huge body of outstanding work he would have produced had he been alive today. That’s how I learned what makes Henri Cartier-Bresson one of the greatest artists of the past Century. Some of my somewhat better pictures prove how much I’m just an amateur and how much he was an artist.

Vonn Scott Bair

Not a Dog on the Muni Metro

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Good Evening:

Several months ago, I had to go downtown to the Stockton street Apple Store (one of three in San Francisco) to ask about a computer problem during my lunch break. Now Muni does not allow dogs on its cars except for service dogs. However a man embarked the Civic Center station with an absolute beast. Four feet tall at the shoulder, six feet long, not counting the tail.

A passenger said, “Man you can’t bring that Siberian Husky on the train.”

“Don’t worry, it’s OK, no problem. This is not a dog. He’s a Timber Wolf.”

That is a really, really good way to get everyone’s attention. Especially mine, since wolves have very large heads, even larger jaws, and these even larger jaws were very close to a pair of very special parts of me.

His human told us all that his wolf was “completely tame.” No. Tractable like cheetahs, maybe, but not tame. It did let us pet its head and it did sit on command, but make no mistake, a wolf is not a dog. Wolves do not enjoy humans. This wolf did not enjoy us, not with its massive head lowered and looking at the floor of the Muni car, not with its body absolutely still. I know that anthropomorphism is a dangerous thing, but in my eyes his body language screamed sullenness. If I read his mind correctly, the wolf was thinking, “Anywhere but here. Anywhere but here.”

But it was not a dog. So it was OK to bring it on Muni.

Hearing the call of the wild (new episode of “Being Human” in a few minutes), I remain,

Yours Truly,

Vonn Scott Bair

Memory, Dancing and “Funk 49” on Valentine’s Day at Haight & Clayton

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Good Evening:

If you can recall when The James Gang released the rock classic song “Funk 49,” you’re pretty old, even if you were in grade school, as I was back then. The busker who was trying to play an acoustic guitar version of the song looked about 60 with a steel grey ponytail and beard, but I’m afraid the song was a bit too much for his abilities; the syncopated rhythm during the bridge is trickier than it seems.

So most of the passersby during their walks home from work didn’t pay him much mind or coins. Then a very elderly couple, about 70-80 years old, happened to stroll past the musician, her hand hooked around his elbow, as it probably has been for the past half-century at the minimum. They were both short and squat, him looking like a retired banker, her looking like a retired banker’s wife, in matching camel hair overcoats and plaid scarves, but only he wore the bowler and wire-rim eyeglasses.

When the couple passed the guitarist, still struggling with “Funk 49,” they stopped and listened for a moment. I was too far away to hear them, but they did look puzzled as they spoke to each other. I’m sure they were asking each other a series of questions. Then at the same moment, their faces lit up with 500 watt smiles.

And the very elderly couple danced in the middle of the sidewalk. Good old fashioned shake-your-booty-do-your-own-thing-to-the-sound-of-that-backbeat-you-can’t-lose-it kind of dancing. The young people hurrying home from work cast only a glance and kept on hurrying home from work, but the old lovers had all the time in the world for dancing, even at their age, especially at their age. When the busker finished his song, the gentleman peeled a few bills out of his wallet and dropped them in the open guitar case at the musician’s feet. Then the elderly couple walked on, skipping a bit (yes, skipping!), her hand hooked around his elbow, as it probably has been for the past half-century. Those bills could not have been singles, judging from how quickly the artist scooped them up and stuffed them into his pocket.

My guess? The song was a big part of a very happy memory from decades ago, but having forgotten the song decades ago, they had forgotten the memory. Song heard again, song remembered, and a valuable memory resurrected.

Vonn Scott Bair

Lovers Behind the Grocery Store

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Picture taken behind the Safeway on Church & Market Street, San Francisco, CA on 11 August 2007 at 3:18 p.m. with a Nikon Coolpix 4300.

How Love Begins on the 71-Limited (I Think)

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Good Afternoon:

The 25-ish young woman sitting in the back row with long brown hair and sunglasses that looked like ski goggles stared for a long time at the 25-ish young man standing about four feet away in pants, shirt, vest and necktie (but no coat), all in varying shades of grey and silver. His hair was even longer, even if bound in a pony tail, but tightly bound by a dozen rubber bands, roughly one for every inch or so of hair.

“Hey,” she said, “Do I know you?”

“Um, I don’t know. Let me look at you a sec.”

He squinted at her for a few seconds.

“You do look familiar.”

“You garden much?”

“Love gardening,”

“Were you gardening in Golden Gate Park last Saturday?”

He squinted at her again.

“Were you the bicyclist who nearly killed me?”

“Yeah, that was me.”

“Oh. Well, um. Nice to meet you.”

“But you know, you stepped in front of me.”

“Didn’t seem that way to me.”

“At least I missed.”

“That was cool.”

“I’m Rachel.”

“Nick.”

“Nice to meet you.”

“You, too.”

“Yeah. Come on, have a seat.”

“Thanks.”

“So, like, are you a professional gardener?”

“Volunteer. I work for the City’s Environment Department. I create brochures, PowerPoint presentations, write reports, stuff like that.”

“Cool.”

“Thanks.”

I probably should have stayed on the bus longer to be certain, but this is how people fall in love, right? When one of them nearly accidentally kills the other? I learned that at the movies. Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone.

Vonn Scott Bair