Monthly Archives: May 2013

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


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!


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.


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


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


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


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.


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.


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?


A construction crane seen from Candlestick Point.


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

Corona Heights 052413

Vonn Scott Bair

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


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


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.

DSCN5771 DSCN5776

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:

DSCN5662 DSCN5658

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:


Leading to this vantage point:


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.


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.

DSCN5770 DSCN5721_2

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.


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.

DSCN5677 DSCN5701 DSCN5707 DSCN5684

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