Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Minimally Artistic Art of Instant Minimalist Art: 126 Hawthorne Lane, San Francisco, California

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Good Evening:

Murals might represent a great blessing to the blank walls of San Francisco, but graffiti represent the curse. You might think that taggers would have the good sense to feel too embarrassed and ashamed of their poor artistry, but alas, they do not. The parking lot at 126 Hawthorne Lane–just 50 feet away from the new home of our gracious WordPress hosts at Automattic–and it seems odd that WordPress’ spell check function flags “Automattic” as an error–represents a typical tagger target, but the response of the parking lot owners to the totally tragically terribly talentless tagging does not. Most parking lot owners just paint over the tagging with whatever dullsville paint they have at hand.

126 Hawthorne Lane has a plan. Specifically, paint schemes.

The south and north walls on each side of the lot get tagged often. The parking lot owner uses one set of colors for the south wall and a different set for the north.

The south wall tends toward earth tones.

DSCN5848 DSCN5845 DSCN5846The north wall tends toward shades of grass and sky.

DSCN5850 DSCN5841 DSCN5835It can’t be a coincidence.

Incidentally, the good folks at Automattic know how to throw parties. On consecutive days this week, they showered free drinks, free pizzas, free beer and sodas, free stickers and buttons, free iPhone cases, and free chocolate upon their bloggers and developers. It’s real easy to feel real appreciated at their San Francisco soirees.

Vonn Scott Bair

10,000+. Thanking Everyone – with a New Puzzle!

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Good Morning:

It happened sometime last Thursday: The San Francisco Scene–Seen! received its 10,000th view.

Thank you so much.

I never expected to reach any significant number of followers or viewers; indeed, I didn’t know if this blog would last more than a few months before I got bored and shut it down. So to thank everyone, I’ve created another one of my picture puzzles! If you haven’t seen one of these before, they usually don’t present more than middling difficulty. The idea is simple. First, I present a bunch of closeups of sections of one of San Francisco’s hundreds (thousands?) of murals. Then I present a picture of the mural as a whole. Your goal: identify where the closeups fit into the overall picture.

C. Dill is either an individual artist or a collective with one of the most original and distinct oeuvres in the city. You cannot mistake a C. Dill work for murals created by anyone else. Herewith I present the closeups from “Feral Child,” a recent mural from November 2012 that went up on Market Street between 7th and 8th Streets:

DSCN5792 DSCN5794 DSCN5793 DSCN5796 DSCN5795The next picture is the section of the mural that contains the above closeups.

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Hint: You shall find the top closeup in the basket on the far right.

All right, perhaps this one poses a slightly greater challenge than normal. Thanks again & for ever for visiting.

Vonn Scott Bair

Weekly Photo Challenge: In the Background – Photography Is Not All Black & White

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Good Morning:

Photography can prove deceptive. The phrase, “it’s all there in black and white” might have originated in relation to a written document; it might have originated because someone pointed at a photo and spoke that phrase as another version of another saying, “a picture (or the camera) doesn’t lie.” The trouble is that photography can deceive/confuse/lie/obfuscate, even if that is not the photographer’s intention, at the very moment when the photographer is trying to capture a moment as exactly as possible.

The problem arises when this happens: the photograph captures the moment, but not the context in which the moment occurs. You will find these ruminations in any Photography 101 course, of course, and I doubt I have anything original to add here, with the possible exception of this picture.

The Staring Man at the Bus Stop, Market Street, San Francisco, Califorina

The Staring Man at the Bus Stop, Market Street, San Francisco, California

I spotted the situation as the 21-Hayes approached the stop near the cable car turnaround at Market and Powell. Guy stares at woman, woman doesn’t know it. He stares at her hard. Remarkable coincidence follows; she boards and takes a seat opposite me, he keeps staring as the bus idles at a red light. I put my iPhone’s camera to work (seriously, does anyone use a cell phone to make, you know, phone calls?) and snagged the shot.

What the heck is really going on here? The moment looks sinister, thanks to the staring man in the background, but what of the context? Depending upon who you are, your immediate impulsive reaction might consist of “Did Vonn just photograph a sexual offender scouting for victims and is it possible that the police might need this picture someday?” Depending upon who you are, your immediate impulsive reaction might consist of “Did Vonn just photograph a really shy guy who couldn’t work up the gumption to speak to her before her bus arrived?” For all we know, the next time he sees her, he might work up the gumption to speak to her, and they might instantly fall madly in love, get married next week and spend the next 75 years swooning over each other.

We just don’t know.

In deference to my boy Henri Cartier-Bresson, I call this “The Anti-Decisive Moment.” He once wrote that a good photographer captures “the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.” Obviously, I’m not a good photographer; My imprecise organization gave this event multiple “possible expressions.”

Yes, great photography is hard. However, bad photography is also pretty tough.

Photography just isn’t black and white.

Vonn Scott Bair

Weekly Photo Challenge: In the Background – The Views from the Stairs of 525 Golden Gate Avenue, San Francisco

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Good Afternoon:

First, a little background on the foreground of the background. Or, uh, um, something like that:

"Firefly" by Ned Kahn, San Francisco, California

“Firefly” by Ned Kahn, San Francisco, California

That vertical item is Firefly, an excellent environmental sculpture by Ned Kahn that adorns the outside of San Francisco Public Utilities Commission headquarters on 525 Golden Gate. Firefly consists of thousands of clear plastic squares affixed by their top edges only to a framework in such fashion that they flutter in the breeze. Actually, it’s a wind, sometimes a very strong one. The sculpture is always in motion, and thousands of people have stood at the base of Kahn’s work taking tens of thousands of photographs from all sorts of angles.

As it happens, Firefly conceals the main stairway of the building, which I photographed in one of my responses to the “From Above” challenge. The stairway has windows looking out, and between the glass and the clear plastic squares, workers there have a very curious view of the world, literally cubist (“square-ist?”).

DSCN5411 DSCN3761 DSCN2743And now, another lesson on How To Apply For A Job: over a year ago, the SFPUC needed to hire a new graphic designer and applicants to include a portfolio of their work. One such applicant included not just a portfolio, but also a few samples of how a new logo for the Commission might look. You can see the logo in the foreground of the next picture.

DSCN3017Oh yes, that artist got the job.

Recently I have experimented with a variation of the above theme. Instead of photographing the backgrounds directly, I have photographed the reflections of the same in the glass walls that stand behind me in each of the above stairwell shots. Aside from the disadvantage that of necessity as least some part of yours truly appears in all of them, some still manage to look rather interesting.

DSCN4890 IMG_4743 DSCN5012Thus I have transformed all of the backgrounds into foregrounds, even as they remain backgrounds.

Or, uh, um, something like that.

Vonn Scott Bair

Weekly Photo Challenge: In the Background – Exploring San Francisco

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Good Morning:

Well, hmmm; “In the Background.” Different, and a bit of a puzzler. At least these have something interesting going on in the background; they might prove suitably qualified for this week’s Challenge.

First, another shot of a future iconic San Francisco scene, the Aeolian Harp at the Exploratorium with the Transamerica Tower in the background.

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These next two might be entirely background. Hope that still counts.

Looking East from Land's End at the Golden Gate Bridge

Looking East from Land’s End at the Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco & the East Bay as Seen from Corona Heights

San Francisco & the East Bay as Seen from Corona Heights

Here we have the spit at Candlestick Point.

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An example of why the Challenge is tougher than usual for me. In “201” the background is very tiny. Look through the “0” to see the activity. When the background is this tiny, does it still qualify as background?

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A construction crane seen from Candlestick Point.

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A view through the trees at Grand View/Turtle Hill.

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Vonn Scott Bair

Weekly Photo Challenge: Escape – San Francisco’s East Coast, 22 May 2013

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Good Morning:

“Wait a minute; how can a city on America’s West Coast even have an East Coast?!”

Bay Bridge & Fire Boat No. 2, 23 May 2013

Bay Bridge & Fire Boat No. 2, 23 May 2013

Not easy, by any stretch of the imagination; San Francisco sits at the very tip of a peninsula pointing roughly north and water surrounds it on the west, north and east sides. What’s truly odd is “East Coast;” as far as I know, yours truly is the only person in San Francisco who uses that phrase. Other folks prefer the names of specific neighborhoods: Mission Bay, the Embarcadero, Bay View, Dogpatch (yes, we have a Dogpatch). For this, my final escape during my vacation and final response to this week’s Challenge, a collection of shots focusing on Mission Bay and the Embarcadero.

San Francisco–the world leader in obsolete modes of public transit (and what else can one expect from one of the planet’s citadels of high tech?)–boasts a huge collection of colorful vintage streetcars from across the country and around the world, but none of them can surprise even the natives like the Blackpool.

The Blackpool.

The Blackpool.

Our only open-air streetcar, the Blackpool makes so few appearances that it arrives at a stop, people don’t get on. They assume it’s some kind of private car for a private party, and the operators have to encourage people to board. It only rides on exceptionally warm weekend days (and perhaps Fridays), making it about as often seen as a Coelacanth. Should you ever seen it, cancel all your plans and board it faster than immediately. The Blackpool has pleasant rumbling vibration and combined with the salt air, has the feel of a open boat on a calm sea.

Even on a midweek afternoon, the East Coast becomes a hub of human activity:

Hanging Out After the Giants' Day Game, 22 May 2013

Hanging Out After the Giants’ Day Game, 22 May 2013

Yoga Class, Embarcadero 22 May 2013

Yoga Class, Embarcadero 22 May 2013

Pedicab, Ferry Building, Embarcadero, San Francisco, California

Pedicab, Ferry Building, Embarcadero, San Francisco, California

Visting the TCHO Chocolate Factory

Visting the TCHO Chocolate Factory

Two of San Francisco’s great hangouts, the Hi-Dive and Red’s Java House, sit very close to each other just south of the Embarcadero and just north of Mission Bay, the home of the San Francisco Giants’ ball park.

SF East Coast 5 052213 SF East Coast 7 052213The boarder on the left of the picture below had a video camera and recorded the other boarders at work/play.

SF East Coast 3 052213Public sculptures in San Francisco have three stages of existence:

  1. Hideousness: “My tax dollars paid for that?!”
  2. Landmark: “Meet me by the hideousness.”
  3. Acceptance: “I love that piece of hideousness!”

On that note, say hello to Claes Oldenburg:

DSC_0068For the record, I’ve always liked Oldenburg’s “Cupid’s Span” and other enormous sculptures. Someone in the art world has to have a sense of humor, and a sense of humor writ (very) large.

How can someone, anyone, play a brass instrument and tap dance at the same time?

DSC_0130I think he’s playing a cornet, I think he’s maybe 12-14 years old, and I think he made it look easy.

This might be a good time to advise you to stop reading this post, plan a trip to San Francisco, buy tickets to visit our Exploratorium in its new home, and then return to reading.

Ah, you’re back. Good.

The new Exploratorium has stunned, amazed and impressed visitors since its opening. So important that the New York Times covered not only the opening, but also the science of the move to the new home at Pier 15. The designers, architects and landscapers created its new home with photographers in mind. For example, the Aeolian Harp used to sit on the roof of the old home, rarely seen. Today, you have to work to miss it.

SF East Coast 2 052213Hundreds of different versions of the above picture must already exist online. It can’t be an accident that someone put the Harp at this specific location. With a city view like this, it can’t be accident that someone put the entire Exploratorium at this specific location:

DSCN5203The Exploratorium even has its own fog machine, because if there’s one thing you never see in San Francisco, it’s fog:

DSCN5192The Embarcadero remains a work in progress ever since the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989 forced the destruction of the Embarcadero Freeway. Civic leaders and citizens alike took one look at the new vista and realized that tremendous potential existed here, and we’ve worked on improvements ever since. I don’t know if the area will ever become “finished,” whatever that means; one still sees construction cranes everywhere.

DSC_0003I chose The Magic Hour for yesterday’s escape (approximately one hour before the sun sets). Photography in the Western United States poses interesting challenges for both digital and film cameras. The light in California and the High Desert of Idaho, Wyoming and Utah seems more intense than elsewhere; I can think of no other reason why photos turn out bleached and faded. Working around this is tough. For the pictures taken with my DSLR (I also used my point-and-shoot and my iPhone, I affixed a polarizing filter over the lens. The result produces rich vibrant colors, but as in the above picture, they can also become a little too intense. But as a matter of personal taste, I like the results and keep them.

My explorations yesterday ended with a pretty darn good meal at La Mar (Zagat food rating = 24), a better-be-pretty-darn-good-because-it’s-pretty-darn-expensive Peruvian restaurant at Pier 1 1/2 with sensational views of the San Francisco Bay, and yes, we have a Pier 1 1/2. I do recommend the place, especially the sea food, but bring your credit card(s). After dinner, I walked past the Ferry Building, in front of which a couple had placed a portable speaker and engaged in ballroom dancing on their rollerblades to the sounds of ADELE and for the entertainment of all.

It’s official: San Francisco is magic.

With a sampler of additional shots below, I conclude my series of San Francisco Escapes. My vacation was supposed to be an escape from work, but I have worked so hard on this vacation getaway that I need to escape to work to getaway from my vacation escape.

Or something like that.

Firehouse Home of Engine 35 and Fire Boat No. 2, San Francisco, 22 May 2013

Firehouse Home of Engine 35 and Fire Boat No. 2, San Francisco, 22 May 2013

Antique Ferry Boat, Embarcadero, San Francisco

Antique Ferry Boat, Embarcadero, San Francisco

Some buildings at the Embarcadero retain their original maritime uses.

Some buildings at the Embarcadero retain their original maritime uses.

City Reflection in Exploratorium Window

City Reflection in Exploratorium Window

Weird Symbol Thingie Near Exploratorium, San Francisco

Weird Symbol Thingie Near Exploratorium, San Francisco

Time to Go Home, 22 May 2013

Time to Go Home, 22 May 2013

Vonn Scott Bair

Weekly Photo Challenge: Escape – Candlestick Point, San Francisco, CA 21 May 2013

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Good Morning:

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, these pictures looks like rural Northern California, but that sneaky Vonn, he probably took some more of his trick photographs again, this must be San Francisco. And since I have an outstanding and intelligent readership, yes, you are correct.

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Candlestick Point (not to be confused with Candlestick Park, the current home of my beloved San Francisco 49ers, and it’s a shame I can’t color my fonts red and gold) is a California State Park on the southeast corner of the city. We city folk don’t often visit, especially during the weekdays, because public transit serves the park poorly. Actually, not at all. The 29-Sunset has a stop about a quarter-mile away, while I had to walk nearly a mile from the T line stop at Gilman. The weekends are busy, thanks to the comparatively large acreage for exploration, picnic tables with wind breaks (the park is very windy), fire pits, and other facilities. However, walking had its advantages; aside from the superb exercise, I got to indulge in my fondness for urban industrial landscape wasteland photography:

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Only a few hundred yards from where I snapped the first two shots. Incredible, huh?

I must have found a sort of back entrance to the park:

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Leading to this vantage point:

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Along the way to this spot, a large brown critter with extremely long ears leapt up and bounded away from me. I thought, that can’t possibly be a jackrabbit. I was wrong. Candlestick Point is the home of a small population of jackrabbits. Like Grand View and Corona Heights, the park does maintain a population of wild animals that you would not expect to see in densely populated city like mine. I even heard high-pitched shaking sounds which reminded me of rattlesnakes. If they actually live in the park, which seems unlikely, must have been insects, they would have plenty of prey.

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Ground squirrels have severely truncated tails. The long tails that help tree squirrels maintain their balance while roaming treetops would just get in the way of a ground squirrel’s escape into one of its burrows. The ground squirrels at Candlestick do not behave the same as ground squirrels near the Grand Tetons. At the Tetons, they flee into their holes at the merest hint of humans. At the Point, they first freeze on top of the rocks where they sit, where they do blend in rather well. By the way, San Francisco ground squirrels will eat anything. I will spare you the picture of two of them feasting on the carcass of a large fish.

Cormorants are not the easiest birds to photograph; they do not like humans and will dive as soon as they see you. Your best bet consists of using the widest angle possible and then cropping.

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The next shot illustrates an summer phenomenon of San Francisco. As the day heats up, the water in the Bay evaporates into a fine mist. At a certain point, the mist becomes opaque enough that the East Bay almost seems to disappear.

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I conclude with some random shots of the Point, including the spit of land where people fish. The Bay’s overall health has improved in recent decades to the point that adult males and women over 45 can eat 1-2 servings of some species of fish caught in the San Francisco Bay per week. Seriously, that does constitute very good news.

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San Francisco contains dozens if not hundreds of escapes concealed within its diminutive 49 square miles among its not-so-diminutive 800,000+ human residents. I have used my vacation to explore some of the lesser-known getaways (incidentally, vacationing in San Francisco is much cheaper if you already live here). One more escape and I’m done for this week’s photo Challenge.

Vonn Scott Bair

Weekly Photo Challenge: Escape – Lake Merritt, Oakland, California

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Good Morning:

Presenting one of Oakland’s premiere escapes, Lake Merritt, America’s first wildlife refuge (1870), home to picnic tables, canoes and rowboats, shaded paths, Fairyland amusement park, and a bird sanctuary. Sadly not one of my good days with a camera, only a pair of almost adequate shots:

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But the conversation was pretty good.

On Saturday afternoon, Lake Merritt also became the escape of a father and daughter. He was about 30, six foot two at least, African-American, lean and muscular, she was about four, both dressed mostly in white. She had reached that age when children do not say “Yes” or “No,” they say “Yyyyyyyyes!” or “Nnnnnnno!” with great enthusiam and always the exclamation point.

Which made their Very Serious Discussion rather interesting.

“You think Daddy should walk, while Mommy and you drive?”

“Yyyyyyyyes!”

“Don’t you think Daddy should drive, while you and Mommy walk?”

“Nnnnnnno!”

“How about Daddy and you drive, while Mommy walks?”

“Nnnnnnno!”

“But my car isn’t broken.”

“Yyyyyyyyes!”

“And Mommy broke her car.”

“Yyyyyyyyes!”

“And you still think Daddy should walk, while you and Mommy drive?”

“Yyyyyyyyes!”

“I cannot agree with this assessment. I think you’re being unfair.”

“Nnnnnnno!”

“Are you agreeing with Mommy just because you and she are girls and I’m a boy?”

“Yyyyyyyyes!”

“Just because you’re girls?”

“Yyyyyyyyes!”

“OK, I need to teach you something about prejudice…”

At which point I had stop following them because rehearsal lay in a different direction.

Vonn Scott Bair

Weekly Photo Challenge: Escape – Corona Heights Park, San Francisco, 18 May 2013

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Good Evening:

For a park to succeed as an escape or even a one-hour getaway, it must have a reason to exist, a reason to draw you there. Most parks have multiple reasons. Land’s End offers exercise, mind-blowing views and superb photography. Grand View or Turtle Hill offers a vigorous trek up the most beautiful stairs in San Francisco, a rare 360 degree view of the city, and the opportunity to chase your hat after the wind blows it off your head. South Park has picnic tables, nearby restaurants with take-out menus, and a children’s playground.

Corona Heights Park has exactly one reason for its existence. Only one.

That’s it. Just one reason why you should know of Corona Heights.

180 Panorama of San Francisco and the East Bay from the Top of Corona Heights, San Francisco, CA 18 May 2013

180 Panorama of San Francisco and the East Bay from the Top of Corona Heights, 18 May 2013

I didn’t say it was a bad reason. Click on the above photo for full impact.

Corona Heights is another Significant Natural Resource Area (an official designation), but visitors have more room to roam its roughly 2.5 acres. The hillsides contain the rare plants and occasional rare bird or insect, but the humans maintain dominion over the hilltop, 550 feet above sea level. Like Grand View, walking there constitutes a tough workout, so you might want to take the 37-Corbett and disembark at the intersection of Roosevelt and Musuem. On weekends you will encounter a lot of people, but everyone behaved considerately when I visited this afternoon and no one hogged the highest points for more than a minute or two.

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I know almost nothing of botany, so I don’t know how this plant has managed to survive and thrive:

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Now for a little fun with photography. Check out these:

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Seriously, if you didn’t already know I had taken these pictures in a small park in one of America’s most densely populated cities in one of that city’s most densely populated residential neighborhoods, where would you have guessed I had taken them? An unusually rural area in Sonoma County, perhaps? Mendocino County? Further north? Oregon, perhaps? If not for the stairs you wouldn’t know anyone had ever set foot on this land. In reality I stood at the base of the western side of the hill and pointed upward to create the illusion.

Vonn Scott Bair

Weekly Photo Challenge: Escape – San Francisco’s South Park & the One-Hour Getaway, 17 May 2013

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Good Morning:

Human beings excel at constructing their own restrictions.

We have jobs to do, bills to pay, tasks to perform, obligations to keep, rules to obey, To Do Lists to complete, and a Monday-Friday, 9-5 routine (although in the tech world, that’s more like 7-7, and frequently on Saturday, too). As we weren’t conflicted enough, human beings also have an urge to escape, to get away from it all. But we can’t really escape escape; too many jobs, bills, tasks, obligations, rules, To Do Lists, and that Monday-Friday routine.

But we can get away.

Which brings me to South Park, San Francisco’s oldest public park.

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Our South Park has absolutely no connection to that other South Park, no connection at all.

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OK, maybe there exists a little connection. San Francisco’s South Park takes up perhaps an acre of land bordered by Bryant, Brannan, Second and Third Streets, and has existed since at least 1855 (six years after Marshall discovered gold at Sutter’s Mill). Modeled on the English style of public park by George Gorden, an English entrepreneur (go figure), South Park is carefully manicured and maintained for human use, unlike Grand View which is mostly wild and highly restricted, or Land’s End, which is mostly wild and totally unrestricted.

South Park became Ground Zero for the Dot Com Boom of the 1990s, surrounded by tech firms, which also means it became Ground Zero for the Dot Com Bomb of 2000-2001, surrounded by tech firms gone bust. Today South Park is one of many Ground Zeros for the Dot Com Boom v. 2.0, surrounded by new tech firms, and I keep my fingers crossed that history does not repeat itself.

But until history repeats itself, South Park will remain the location of the weekly Friday lunch hour escape. If you can’t escape your job, you can still manage to get away for an hour. Friday May 17, 2013 was a perfect day for an end-of-the-week getaway, with a better than perfect microclimate: sun if you wanted to absorb some rays, but not too hot; or shade if you wanted that, but not too cold.

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A multitude of restaurants ring the park, and many escapees got their food to go from these establishments. Some took their meals to the park, some ate at the outdoors tables.

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And if you want to get away from the getaway, you can always rent a bicycle.

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South Park also has a great children’s playground. This dad looked like he needed it more than his offspring:

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Ironically, some people came to South Park to work during the lunch hour: a corporate photographer, his assistant and their client; also, some kind of two-camera shoot.

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Just a quiet and calm little getaway oasis when we need to get away to an oasis.

Vonn Scott Bair

Weekly Photo Challenge: Escape – Grand View Park, San Francisco, 15 May 2013

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Good Morning:

Do you need to get away from it all? Do you need to escape the daily grind? Do you need a sanctuary? Then the time has come to visit one of San Francisco’s lesser-known parks. Grand View Park (also known as Grandview Park or Turtle Hill–there’s no consensus on anything in this town), is one of our tiny ones, less than an acre in size. The 66 bus goes directly to G. V., but let’s get some exercise and take a little walk!

All we have to do is find 16th Avenue and head south. Here’s a convenient sign:

Grand View Park DSC_0024And here is 16th Avenue:

DSC_0025OK, it might not look like a normal avenue. This is how San Francisco does streets. If you’ve read my photo essay on Peralta Avenue, 16th Avenue will come as no surprise.

Once you’ve climbed to the top of this block of 16th, you won’t have much more trouble reaching Grand View. Just two more sets of stairs. Here’s the first:

DSC_0027It’s not as difficult as it looks. Furthermore, you have to like the looks of the stairs themselves. Many San Franciscans are not just fiercely loyal to their city, they are fiercely loyal to their neighborhoods and their neighborhood associations. This particular association raised money for the upkeep of the area and construction of this series of stairs by selling sponsorships. The tiles themselves are worth reading for a sense of SF history; one stair was sponsored by a family whose members have served in the SF Police Department since 1892. The top two flights are my favorite.

DSC_0054 Grand View Park DSC_0055When you climb these stairs, you travel in a roughly eastward direction. Should you grow tired, just stop rest, turn around, and check out the view to the west.

DSC_0056Now this is one place where I would return for pictures of one of our spectacular Pacific Coast sunsets.

When you reach the top of these stairs, you can relax, only one more set of stairs to go:

DSC_0058Easy.

Unlike Land’s End, the local parks people do try very hard to restrict your movements in this park. Despite its tiny size, Turtle Hill remains an important natural habitat for rare species of plants and insects, especially butterflies. Therefore, the humans receive considerable encouragement to leave the slopes of the hill alone.

The hilltop is another matter. The top of the hill belongs to the people.

Grand View Park DSC_0062Now you can see why people bother to make the trek and escape to Grand View.

DSC_0070The big swath of green is Golden Gate Park. On the other side of the little swath of green you will find Land’s End. Beyond that, the bay and the Marin headlands.

(Addendum, 18 May 2013: I forgot to write about one curious phenomenon that might be unique to Turtle Hill–it is simultaneously one of the quietest and one of the noisiest spots in San Francisco, and therefore you cannot wear a hat when you visit. Between the morning departure for work and the afternoon return from the same, you will find no, I mean no vehicular traffic in this residential neighborhood with narrow twisting roads. In terms of human noise, it becomes very quiet. Turtle Hill also gets slammed with perhaps the strongest winds in the city. In terms of natural noise, this park is a non-stop high-decibel racket. Because the bellowing billows blast you so bellicously (ah, poesy!), any hat will blow off your head and fly down the slopes, with the possible exception of a very tight beret.)

I took a different route to the bottom of the hill, climbing down the stairs on the east side of the hill. Took more pictures of course, including this one.

Golden Gate Bridge and St. Anne's Catholic Church, Viewed from the East Slope of Turtle Hill, San Francisco, California, 15 May 2013

Golden Gate Bridge and St. Anne’s Catholic Church, Viewed from the East Slope of Turtle Hill, San Francisco, California, 15 May 2013

I hope you enjoyed the tour.

Vonn Scott Bair

Land’s End, San Francisco, 4 May 2013: Miscellaneous Photographs

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Good Morning:

On 4 May, I visited Land’s End at the northwest corner of San Francisco to gather material for the “From Above” Weekly Photo Challenge (and accidentally gathered material for the “Pattern” Challenge as well). Naturally, I took other pictures as well, and as I have chosen to spend my vacation exploring the city’s lesser-seen parks and places, it seemed appropriate to share pictures of my varied excursions, starting with shots of my visit to one of America’s most hazardous urban parks.

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Note the fence. Note the warning sign. Now note the beaten path past the warning sign. I have joked that Land’s End is America’s most libertarian park, but the joke contains a hint of truth: the people who maintain San Francisco’s park system will put up the occasional warning sign and the occasional fence to limit their legal liability, but beyond that, go wherever you want, take whatever fool chances you want, take whatever fool risks you want, and if you get your fool self killed, well tough, it’s your own dang fool fault.

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One probably cannot take a non-cliched shot of the Golden Gate Bridge; one can only hope to take a less-cliched shot.

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Photographer (n.): The consarned fool who runs toward an explosion. No explosions here, of course, but one good strong gust and that guy goes over the edge. However, he probably collected some incredible shots.

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This photograph exploits a quirk on my Nikon Coolpix S9100; it emphasizes or brightens the comparatively light-colored objects in a picture and deemphasizes or darkens the rest. However, I believe that cameras do not have weaknesses, they have features, and photographers have an obligation to learn when and how to turn them to their advantage.

A rockface, something I added to two of my collections, “Grey” and “The Minimally Artistic Art of Instant Minimalist Art:”

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And a little miscellany:

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Vonn Scott Bair

The Muralist @ Work, Folsom Street Opposite the Rainbow Grocery, 11 May 2013

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Good Morning:

Just a quick one for today; vacations are so much work!

I see lots of murals, but I rarely spot a muralist at work. This gentleman was hard at work at his latest, a mural adorning the front of an auto body shop:

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Look at all those tools he used! Guy’s serious about his art. When I downloaded this more or less random snapshot to my computer and studied, I spotted an accidental neat little touch. He focused so hard on his work and bent forward so much that one of his own flowers seemed to replace his head.

Vonn Scott Bair

El Luchador Contra Los Fotografos!

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Good Morning:

First, a picture of yours truly the serious professional-type actor doing serious professional-type acting with serious professional-type acting stuff:

El Luchador Killer Chemo!

El Luchador Killer Chemo!

I have a reputation for excelling in off-beat roles, but you might have guessed that already. I have multiple roles in my next acting job, a stage reading of an excellent new play by Mary Spletter entitled The White Pelican. The play portrays a life-long struggle of one woman against breast cancer, and one of my characters is the good-guy/bad-guy Killer Chemo (“I hafta almost kill ya to save ya!”). Mary envisioned K. C. as a “luchador.” Luchadores are Mexican professional wrestlers, many of whom wear wildly colorful masks. From what little I know, “Lucha Libre” south of the border is not even remotely like professional wrestling anywhere else (Bolivian women’s professional wrestling is allegedly even more different).

Naturally, San Francisco has many stores that specialize in lucha libre mascaras, so finding a suitable one for K. C. on a Saturday morning posed no problem. But then it occurred to me: I needed to get used to wearing the mask, rehearsal would begin in only two hours, why not wear the mask in public on the streets of San Francisco and Oakland and see how people would react? Of course it seemed like an eccentric idea; then again, I am a little eccentric, and when I said to myself, “Either do this–or don’t do this and wish you had,” the choice became obvious. Well, obvious to someone like me.

Serendipity is a life skill, and I have almost mastered it.

I first donned la mascara (and now seems like a good time to apologize for any/all current/past/future mistakes in the Spanish language) as I disembarked from the 21st Street BART station in Oakland. I walked straight up Broadway to Grand Avenue in my suit and tie and my mask. Aside from wearing the mask, I did nothing to attract attention to myself. I walked in straight lines, briefcase at my side, no excess motions, never looking around to see if anyone was looking at me. My concept: this was just another ordinary everyday day for my luchador. Just going to work and the usual 9-5.

The ethics of photographing private citizens going about their private business still bothers me a little. Honestly, I don’t feel completely comfortable exposing people who do not seek attention to the exposures of “the big eye” (sometimes called “the male gaze” when men photograph or film women). I do not wonder that Cartier-Bresson wrapped his shiny Leicas in black matte tape to make them inconspicous. I do see a clash between the right of the photographer to create art versus the right of the individual to privacy, even in public spaces.

All photographers should put themselves in a situations where they become the subject of the people’s attention, where they become the subject of the people’s cameras. We should experience how it feels when a total stranger points a camera at us and starts taking pictures. Of course, at events such as movie premieres and gallery openings, one wants strangers to take pictures. If you walk down a city street in America on a Saturday afternoon wearing a business suit and a luchador’s mask, you should expect strangers to take pictures. Fine. No problem. If you want to photograph the world around you, you should at least understand how the world feels when you photograph it.

Incidentally, Cartier-Bresson did not like being photographed. Eh, bien; I can tolerate a little mild hypocrisy from one of my favorite artists.

Enough bloviating of my blowhard (and probably wrong) opinions. On to the results of my experiment.

The first person to see me was a very tall, overweight gentleman about my age who looked like he was coming down from a bad acid trip. His eyes bulged and he shreiked, “What the f— is happening?!” The next guy was some white-collar type relaxing in cargo shorts and polo shirt who grinned and immediately whipped out his cell phone to take my picture. Walking past a block of coffeehouses on Grand Avenue elicited a collection of double-takes, stares and more photography. At the next intersection, a pair of custodians, both Hispanic, turned the corner of the sidewalk pushing their blue plastic work carts in front of themselves. One look at me and their carts collided (they were unhurt). They looked at each other and I think one said something like “Gringo loco!” to the other, but I do know they laughed.

At the edge of Lake Merritt, a college-age African-American man with wire-rimmed eyeglasses whipped out his point-and-shoot camera and proceeded to photograph–everything except me. However, he casually wandered off about ten feet to my right, still pretending he hadn’t seen me. When I stopped at a red light I heard a flurry of whirring and clicking sounds, and held still so he could take as many photographs as possible before the light changed. It seemed the polite thing to do. As I wrote above, I wanted to know what it’s like to be a private citizen photographed during private activities; I felt a moral obligation to cooperate.

(All right, all you photographers, confess: you just said to yourself, “Darn it! I wish all of my subjects were that polite!” You did, didn’t you?)

I continued on my merry way, and noticed a common behavior. From 100-50 feet away, people without cameras or cell phones stared at me non-stop. From 50-0 feet away, these same people pretended to ignore me, as if men in business suits and luchador masks were such a common occurrence on Oakland’s Grand Avenue near Lake Merritt on a Saturday that they simply could not bother themselves to look. At Lake Merritt, the only exception consisted of a small wedding party. A photographer was taking pictures of the happy couple when the bride saw me and said something in another language that must have been, “Hey, take a picture of him!” because the cameraman did just that. As before, I walked on, pretending to notice nothing, pretending all was normal.

After the afternoon rehearsal, I returned to San Francisco (mask in briefcase), did a little grocery shopping, put on my mask at the bus stop, and boarded the 22-Fillmore to go home. The reaction did not resemble the Oaklanders’ reactions at all.

The San Franciscans completely ignored me.

I have often wondered how inured San Franciscans have become to the oddities that have become so much a part of San Francisco. It would appear that we have become completely inured. Every single person on that bus seemed oblivious to the presence of a luchador in a business suit. This does not surprise me at all: I have seen among other things one woman with a green Mohawk haircut leading a second woman with a black Mohawk haircut on a leash. Yes, a leash, complete with studded dog collar.

A luchador in a business suit would not surprise me, either. The other passengers probably thought I was coming home from a party the night before. Coming home from a party the night before at 5:00 in the afternoon? Well, yes. Perfectly normal in San Francisco, where only the perfectly normal is not perfectly normal.

I did get a few reactions after disembarking for the final walk home. First, an old man sitting on the front steps of his apartment building roared with laughter, said “Is it Hallowe’en already?!” and roared with laughter some more. I also walked past one couple who stared. The woman leaned to the man and whispered. He replied, “Honey, it’s San Francisco.”

I walked through the Duboce Square dog park, where all the canines and their pet humans had gathered for their usual post-5:00 p.m. socializing like Homer Simpson and his buddies at Mo’s bar. No one seemed to notice. Arrived home; nothing unusual happened, no unusual reactions from anyone else.

Evidently, all of the photography took place in Oakland, unless the citizens of San Francisco are geniuses of clandestine picture-taking. This curious little experiment yielded interesting results. I feel tempted to repeat the experiment down different streets in Oakland, San Francisco, and possibly elsewhere–next time, teaming up with a photographer who will photograph the photographers photographing the photographer.

As we say in San Francisco, “Like, totally cosmic, dude.”

Vonn Scott Bair

Weekly Photo Challenge: Pattern – Human Constructs

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Good Morning:

This weekly Challenge will end before I finish posting all of the patterns I saw this weekend. Here are a pair of human constructs. First, a tile roof on San Francisco’s 24th Street (Nikon CoolPix S9100):

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And now a few shots of 1999 Harrison in downtown Oakland (iPhone 4):

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Vonn Scott Bair