Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Crow’s Shows & Pose


Good Evening:

I like crows and ravens. True, they have little in the way of gaudy colors or feathers; I like them for their intelligence and resourcefulness. So when I disembarked from the 71-Noriega at the last stop (Ocean Beach) and discovered that Muni had run fast and I had arrived half an hour early for my friend’s “table reading” (very early drafts of plays receive these private shows–no acting, just reading the script in one’s living room, sometimes around a table), I went looking for something to photograph and found a crow exploring an uncovered rusty trash can near the beach. Using that marvelous beak (corvid beaks are the Bowie Knives of bird beaks–they can do anything), it deftly pried open a discarded KFC box with a delicate motion, plucked a chicken leg bone that still had a meal’s worth of meat, and flew to a nearby post.

Since the bird had selected a post with a marvelous background, I had to take pictures. It did not appreciate my appreciation of its beauty; it thought I wanted its dinner.

Crow Defending Its Dinner with Show of Aggression

This was one of many shows of defiance, intended to warn me away from his prize. But then something changed in the crow. It stopped acting belligerent and held still. Like this:

The Crow’s Pose

As you can see, that background really is perfect for a crow. But check out this bird! It held still for me as I snapped one picture after another, kept its head held high, and didn’t even ruffle a feather. It did not move at all until after I walked away, when it flew off to feast in private on another bird’s leg.

How did it know I meant it no harm? How did it know that I wanted it to hold still? Did this critter recognize my silvery Nikon as a camera? Was it posing for me??

Pondering Avian Mysteries, I Remain,

Yours Truly,

Vonn Scott Bair


I Do Not Understand Reality, 27 September 2012; Or, The Dueling Buskers at Castro & 18th Street


Good Evening:

“San Francisco has five seasons: Winter, Spring, Summer, Hallowe’en and Autumn.” So I thought to myself at the 18th & Castro bus stop for the 24-Divisadero as a young man in a Catwoman costume (complete with falsies) walked past me. It’s that time of year in the city Herb Caen called Baghdad by the Bay. No doubt the gentleman had just returned from our annual Folsom Street Fair, our annual September celebration of decadence, debauchery, dominatrices and other forms of good clean wholesome fun for the entire family–the Addams Family. That part of reality I do understand.

Shy Busker on Haight Street with Digeridoos

I had spent that Sunday on Peralta Avenue–seen one metal-studded leather corset, seem ’em all–so I had chosen to miss the spanking, sadomasochism, sexual antics and other forms of good clean wholesome et cetera.

Now one thing music fans, activists, and pet lovers visiting San Francisco will enjoy knowing is that some of our finest buskers perform at the intersection of 18th and Castro. This is one of the busiest pedestrian intersections in the entire city, and charities, political activists, our local SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), and musicians will compete for space at the corner where a bank stands. A wide expanse of sidewalk wraps around the bank, and I have seen AIDS activists collecting donations, buskers playing acoustic guitar and singing, and the SPCA playing matchmaker for humans and kittens–all at the same time.

Packing up After the Show

On this particular early Sunday evening, a young woman of about 25-30 wearing what I will call attempted “neo-Bohemian/60’s hippie” clothing performed acoustic guitar and sang for passersby with the aid of a portable amplifier that was less than 18 inches tall. This woman combined a major fail in fashion with major successes in songwriting, singing and guitar, sounding like someone who had started with Tori Amos and Sara McLachlan but then found her own way. She earned a steady stream of dollars from the spectators, including a George Washington from your faithful blogger. I understand this part of reality.

Then the competition showed up. This part of reality I did not understand.

This was an African-American gentleman, slightly older, much bigger, wearing a black suit, white shirt, no necktie, with an electric guitar and a two-foot tall amplifier. He began to set up his equipment.

She said, “Hey, what are you doing?” even as she kept strumming.

He said, “This is my spot.”

She said, “Excuse me, this is not your spot, this is my spot.”

He said, “No, you are in my spot, you took my spot away from me.”

She said, “I got here first.”

He said, “I have been playing here for eight years!”

She said, “I have been playing here for ten years!”

He said, “I have been playing here for twelve!”

He plugged his guitar into the amplifier, turned everything on, and began to play without tuning his instrument–louder than the acoustic guitarist with the tiny amplifier.

She turned up her amplifier until it was louder than his big one.

He turned up his amplifier until it was louder than her little one.

However, she had one of those amplifiers that can “go to eleven,” and she went there.*

He stood there, dumbfounded, alternating between glaring at her and glaring at his larger but impotent amp.

During this dispute, a crowd gathered around the dueling musicians and watched. “Why don’t they just take turns performing?” “Why don’t they just perform together?” “They both sound so awful playing so loud.” “Why doesn’t the City do something about this?” “Like what?” “You know, regulate, set up a schedule or something.”

Here’s something I noticed: during this entire dispute, neither musician earned even a penny. I thought of that other duel I had witnessed at 16th and Mission.

My bus arrived and spirited me away from the cacophany.

Vonn Scott Bair

* Every music-themed blog post needs a good Spinal Tap reference.

Someone Notices the Contrast of White on White, 26 September 2012


Good Evening:

Ironically, white is my least favorite color (or technically, lack of color). However, add a little texture and then cast a little shadow and perhaps include a little blur and one might find something of interest.

Orpheum Theater Exterior, San Francisco, Extreme Closeup

San Francisco’s Orpheum Theater has a lot of textured exteriors like this. This next picture also counts as part of the “Things on Walls” series:

Sadly, I forgot where I saw it. Sometimes, the perfectly ordinary and everyday can draw my interest…

…when the sun shines at the right time at the right angle at the right time of year. Say hello to a closeup of my living room wall.

My final subject is a pillar by the main entrance of 965 Mission Street.

Light, texture, shadow. Who needs color?

Vonn Scott Bair

Photo Essay: Peralta Avenue, San Francisco, California, 23 September 2012


Good Evening:

First, a simple question: looking through the opening in the footpath to see the City of San Francisco, California, can you spot Peralta Avenue?

Can you spot Peralta Avenue?

Having trouble? Try again. Look closely.

Apologies to all, it was a trick question. That footpath is Peralta Avenue.

The Part of Peralta Avenue that Actually Is Sort of an Avenue

Visitors know about Lombard Street, “the crookedest street in the world.” Natives know about Vermont Street, “the crookedest street in San Francisco.” Believe it or not, both statements are true: there are two ways to measure crookedness; by one measure, Lombard is the most crooked with eight hairpin turns in a single block, by the other, Vermont is the most crooked for having greater “sinuosity” between 20th and 22nd Streets. However, for sheer bizarre wackiness, Peralta Avenue might have both of them beat, and both visitors and natives who love photography will find much to love here. Even better, they won’t find tacky souvenirs and trinkets. There is a spot of controversy here as to whether the footpath that connects the two separated parts of Peralta Avenue should be considered part of the avenue. I prefer to call it part of the avenue because after all, that’s just so San Francisco.

Finding addresses on Peralta can be almost impossible: Here are two of the better solutions I found:



Peralta runs along the north-northeast side of Bernal Heights like a mountain path/hiking trail/animal run. Perhaps it originated as such. Transforming the original path/trail/run into a two-lane street suitable for automobiles presented enormous challenges for the folks who designed and paved the avenue, and judging from the solutions they devised, someone in the crew mastered the art of combining imagination with compromise, or might have discovered imagination within compromise. The architects who came later to build houses along Peralta needed to master the same talents and artistry in their design and construction. Presenting for your enjoyment and possibly your mild astonishment, a collection of the not-so-bad shots from this weekend’s photography expedition.

Garage Door on Bernal Heights, San Francisco, California


Peralta & York: No Way but Down from Here

How Bernal Heights Does a Sidewalk

One final point: I visited Peralta during The Magic Hour, that period of roughly sixty minutes in the late afternoon/early evening when photographers love the light and what it does to most scenery. However, shooting Peralta during that time of day turned out to pose enormous challenges for my limited technical skills. Almost every shot included sections that were much too brightly lit and sections that were much too dark. Paradoxically, that’s why I recommend Peralta Avenue to all photographers, regardless of skill level: this street poses serious technical challenges that will teach something new to almost every shutterbug, whether it’s camera technique or photo editing skills. This was perhaps my only good shot of my expedition, and obviously, I did a lot of work with editing software:

Peralta Avenue, 23 September 2012

Bernal Heights, because of the steep hils and lack of parking, has almost no businesses on many of its slopes. It really feels more like a small very hill town than part of a city of population 800,000. Perhaps that’s part of the appeal. Perhaps the views are part of the appeal:

View of San Francisco from Small Park Near Peralta Avenue Footpath

Sam’s was the closest store I found heading downhill from Peralta.

And in conclusion, a few shots of a decent San Francisco sunset, plus one last look back at Bernal Heights.

Peace – Beware of the Dogs

Footbridge over Cesar Chavez

Sunset & Incoming Fog, Mission District, San Francisco, CA 23 September 2012

I hope you enjoyed this little journey down one of San Francisco’s least-known neighborhoods.

Vonn Scott Bair

Solitary, Part 3: Things.


Good Evening:

Completing my trilogy of responses to this week’s Challenge, along with People and Animals. One might think that finding anything solitary in a city as densely populated as San Francisco might constitute a challenge, but I still found a few “Things.”

Pink and Sky Blue

I have also classified this one as part of my Things on Walls series, and as is quite common in the series, I have no idea what this thing does.

Streetlight in a Mission Street Alley

I found this in an alley off Mission between 4th and 5th Streets. But let us face the facts: if you want to go Solitary and Things and Picturesque and you live in the American West, you have to go to America’s High Desert.

Cabin Near the Grand Tetons

That’s almost unfairly Solitary.

Native Fireworks, Montana

So is this. Montana is truly one big, Big Sky, country.

Junked Cars on a Trailer, Utah

I saw these junked cars in the giant parking lot of a tiny gas station in Utah.

WordPress veterans will know the answer to this question: ever since the first weekly Photo Challenge, has the overall quality of the submissions gone up over time? I write this because I’ve explored a lot of posts this week, and have either gotten very lucky in clicking, or people have done a great job this week.

Vonn Scott Bair

Solitary, Part 2: Animals.


Good Morning:

It might come as a surprise that San Francisco has a wild side, but here you are:

“Egret with Reflection.” San Francisco, California, 3 September 2007, Nikon D40

Crissy Field, once a salt marsh, formerly an airfield, now a salt marsh again, part of our Presidio, and the home of a large number of waterfowl. Of course, you would expect some places, such as Yellowstone National Park, to have an abundance of wildlife, but my family did not get so lucky during our 2008 trip. Aside from those bison, this was our biggest catch:

Have you checked out the other responses to this week’s Challenge? Personally, it seems that this week has produced an exceptional set of photos.

Vonn Scott Bair

Solitary, Part 1: People.


Good Evening:

The old photo library contains a scintillating surfeit of suitable subjects for selection (ah, poesy): I will divide them into three groups (People, Animals, Things) for easier digestion. Today, the people.

Walking on Folsom Street Near 16th, San Francisco

I had originally planned to zoom in on the corrugated steel and photograph that, but then she appeared in the distance, and yours truly had just barely enough time to capture the shot (Nikon Coolpix 4300 set to black & white). This became one of my earliest pictures in the “Dwarfed” series, so named because humans are one of a very small number of creatures that build structures that dwarf themselves.

I published this one before in The Photographer as Crocodile, but it seems appropriate to the subject. Also a Coolpix 4300.

Because the Laundromat Was Too Hot That Day

This one comes from the iPhone 4, taken in the parking lot of the laundromat on Oak near Divisadero. Looks like a busy weekend of photography.

Vonn Scott Bair