Monthly Archives: June 2013

Women on Wheels (Weekly Photo Challenge: Companionable)

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Good Morning:

Want real companions? Look no further than bikers.

Motorcyclists constitute a separate species of human unto themselves, if my experience is any indication. Judging from what I’ve seen, strangers become friends faster if they both ride motorcycles; they immediately bond over stories of their most recent brushes with death at the hands and wheels of oblivious or even hostile automobile drivers. Women bikers form even tighter bonds (again, based solely upon my experience) because they not only have to deal with oblivious or even hostile automobile drivers, they sometimes have to deal with macho, even chauvinistic attitudes of male bikers. My ex-half-sister-in-law (her brother had been married to my sister) will always represent to me the ultimate biker. A towering giant at 4′ 10″ tall (at most), one day she was riding home on Polk Street when a limousine ran a red light at 30 mph and broadsided her, sending my EHSIL flying 30 feet through the air and bouncing along the street for another 20. She told me the next day that only one thought ran through her mind: “My poor bike is hurt.” Yeah, hardcore. But since she always wore a helmet and “full leather,” she suffered only minor bumps and bruises and was treated and released from SF General after only a few hours. When I visited her the next day, I found her resting in bed and thumbing through a motorcycle catalog. Fully insured, she had already selected her next bike.

Yep. Bikers are different.

And then there are the Dykes on Bikes.

YUAH8TER: Last Group of Bikers Waiting to Ride in Saturday's Parade

YUAH8TER: Last Group of Bikers Waiting to Ride in Saturday’s Parade

The Dykes on Bikes (alternate spelling: Dykes on Bykes) traditionally lead the LGBT Pride Parade each year. In the Seventies, they numbered roughly 25 official members. Nowadays, they number over 400 official members.

Note the emphasis on the word “official.” The real number of women bikers in the D.O.B. contingent traditionally exceeds the official number. A very large number of women who will ride on Sunday morning with the official D.O.B. will in fact be heterosexuals. I’ve known a lot of them. One, an Irish waitress who became the last subject of the last item in the last column Herb Caen ever wrote, told me that she and her buddies would until the D.O.B. had begun and then sneak in at the back. Others have told me that they simply pretend to be gay for a day so they can join. My own EHSIL has ridden a few times at the back of the pack. None have ever reported to me that anyone has ever hassled them for not belonging.

All women bikers are sisters. In fact, I observed this one group that seemed to be practicing for the day when they can become members of the D.O.B., even for just one day:

Woman on Wheels 1Vonn Scott Bair

Trying to Get the Shot Right (Weekly Photo Challenge: Companionable)

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Good Morning:

A recent post (“Today We Are All Party“) explored one of the celebrations that erupted in San Francisco after the Supreme Court decisions involving gay rights. Unfortunately, most of my pictures turned out blurred (my fault, not the camera’s), including this one of two highly companionable women oblivious to all around themselves:

DSC_0291…which was a shame because for once (for a very rare once), I had captured what Henri Cartier-Bresson called The Decisive Moment. The highly companionable subjects deserved better, so after spending a fair amount of time in the editing room, I present some of my attempts to get the shot right.

DSC_0291_3 Graphic ConverterThe specs: iPhoto, 8×10 Landscape crop, Exposure 0.07, Definition 100, Sharpness 100, Temperature 4977, Tint 29. A slight lightening, less redness in the faces, and about as focused as I could make the shot. I also straightened out the shot a bit (the original tilts too much to the left).

DSC_0291_2 Graphic ConverterSpecs: iPhoto, Exposure 0.15, Saturation 0 (produces B&W), Definition 100, Sharpness 100, Temperature 8341, Tint -55, 8×10 Portrait Crop.

DSC_0291_1 Graphic ConverterSpecs: No crop, Exposure 0.25, Saturation 0, Definition 100, Sharpness 100, Temperature 6318, Tint -44.

One of the most important considerations consists of the crop. Leaving the shot alone gives the viewer a good sense of the size of the event, the big guy on the right edge balances the composition (at least, I think so), and conveys the intimacy of the subjects within the context of a big mass of anonymity–they’re the only two whose faces we see. The portrait 8×10 crop conveys the intensity of emotion best, whilst the 8×10 landscape crop is a fair compromise of intimacy and context. Of course, this is only my opinion–I could be wrong about all of this and what I have are a bunch of new versions as flubbed as the original picture. So I experimented with some shareware photo editors.

DSC_0291 Sketcher Oil 79-76-55-86 Contour PencilSoftware: Sketcher. Settings: Oil 79-76-55-86, Pencil: Contour.

DSC_0291 Sketcher Watercolor 60-100-80-25Software: Sketcher. Settings: Watercolor 60-100-80-25.

DSC_0291 FX Photo Studio Pro B&W Grained 25-70Software: FX PhotoStudio PRO. Settings: Black & White Grained, 25-70.

Right or wrong, I have drawn two conclusions. First, I had in my grasp a truly great photograph that could have equaled some of the greatest pictures ever–and I blew it. Second, when trying to salvage a flawed shot, conversion to Black & White will become one of the first tools I’ll try. Many of the iconic photos in history technically had some flaws; for example, Robert Capa’s Magnificent Eleven all have technical problems, tilt, shake and blur only the most obvious. Perhaps the advances in camera technology have forced changes in how we see and evaluate the pictures we take today, and a photograph we could have called great decades ago we must dismiss as flawed given the digital camera technology we have today.

Vonn Scott Bair

Today, We Are All Party (Weekly Photo Challenge: The World Through Your Eyes)

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Good Evening:

Most San Franciscans are Hetero. Many are Gay. Some are Bisexual. The rest are Miscellaneous. But that doesn’t apply today. On this day, 26 June 2013, all San Franciscans show the world that all of us have one thing in common.

All San Franciscans are Party.

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The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued two critical rulings today in favor of gay rights as they relate to marriage. The issue is by no means settled; the second decision seemed rather wishy-washy to me. Furthermore, I expect conservative legislatures in many states will try to enact a variety of anti-gay laws this year (disguised as “pro-marriage”) that will inevitably receive challenges that will end up in front of SCOTUS next year. So the rather wishy-washy second decision will keep the judges a lot busier than they would have been had they handed down a more definitive ruling.

No matter. San Francisco won big today, and when we win big, we party big. Sadly, I failed to capture these two women recreating the legendary Eisenstadt World War II victory shot. Sigh.

DSC_0118 DSC_0143Amazingly, the City and County of San Francisco threw together this Castro Street block party in a matter of hours. Thanks to years of experience and practice from the annual LGBT Pride Parade, San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl victories, and San Francisco Giants World Series triumphs, the city government knows to react to sudden bursts of joy.  Since the electric 24-Divisadero buses couldn’t run down Castro, the San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority set up diesel shuttle buses to take people either to or around the festivities.

My bus showed the extent to which today was a celebration for all San Franciscans. The bus was jammed with couples, but aside from two lesbian couples, they were all boy-girl couplings. Ironically, if only one couple on the bus had children, it was one of the lesbian couples, discussing much too loudly the barfing and pooping habits of their precious rugrats. I heard them; couldn’t overheard them; they talked muchtooloudly. One of them had another baby on the way, but after hearing of the first child’s puking tendencies, I had to wonder why she wanted a second.

DSC_0182 DSC_0096 DSC_0076Cameras everywhere; I wonder how many of my fellow WordPressers attended. Anyone who didn’t want to become amateur photography immortality probably didn’t appear; as you can from these shots, everyone posed happily for the thousands of cameras in honor of the occasion.

More to the point, the people of San Francisco celebrated the occasion with an outpouring of love. The police did come out in force, but they all looked totally relaxed to me, as if knowing in advance that they would not have to work too hard to earn their overtime.

DSC_0130As usual at these events, single heterosexual women turned out in force. How do I know they were single heterosexual women? Because just as they do at the annual Pride Parade, they posed for pictures with the various nude men on the sidewalk (and no, I didn’t take any pictures; I’m trying to keep this blog PG-rated). I also heard electronica blasting from both of the mobile stages; “This Is What It Feels Like (Extended Mix)” by Armin van Buuren was an excellent choice for a celebration song.

Sadly, I have to apologize to you, my reader; the quality of my photography did not rise to the standard demanded by the occasion. Frankly, I felt too much excitement and jerked around my camera a lot, resulting in blurring most of the photos. Also, I wanted to capture the feel of the street photography that Garry Winogrand produced during his career. Turns out, he’s as tough to copy as Henri Cartier-Bresson. This one photograph, however, actually seemed to benefit a little from the poor ability of the photographer. Look at how your attention goes to the face of the woman on the left.

DSC_0291Maybe I’ll convert a duplicate to black-and-white and give it a sort of 1940s feel. Harvey Milk’s nephew spoke at the party; he kept his speech to a minimum and looks a lot like his uncle.

DSC_0216Cameras, cameras, everywhere, everywhere. I finish with a selection of shots. Needless to say, everything you see is 100% unprocessed, straight from the camera to your computer monitor. Once again, I must apologize for the rushed, blurry look of the pictures.

DSC_0223 DSC_0238 DSC_0189 DSC_0171 DSC_0148 DSC_0136Now, as I sit and write, I can still hear the helicopters hovering over the Castro District, most of them representing the various radio, print and television media of the Bay Area. They captured a whole lotta luvin in San Francisco today. Some day, the world will look at the (much better) pictures of San Francisco’s latest great block party and wonder how so much love possibly could have engendered so much hate.

Someday.

Vonn Scott Bair

Weekly Photo Challenge: The World Through Your Eyes – City Lights Bookstore 60th Anniversary

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Good Evening:

City Lights Bookstore Before the Celebration, 23 June 2013

City Lights Bookstore Before the Celebration, 23 June 2013

Tiny little place. Used to be tinier.

City Lights Bookstore During the Celebration, 23 June 2013 (Vesuvio Bar in Yellow, Jack Kerouac Alley in Between)

City Lights Bookstore During Celebration in Jack Kerouac Alley, 23 June 2013 (Vesuvio Bar in Yellow)

Big honking impact upon the literary world. As big as ever.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s little side business turned 60 years old on Sunday. He had settled in San Francisco during the early 50’s (I don’t know if he passed through town after he visited Nagasaki and returned to the US during Operation Magic Carpet). I suppose (speculating again) that he found the place amicable to his newly radicalized spirit. Note that the signs in the second story window read “Open Door,” “Open Books,” “Open Mind,” “Open Heart,” “Disarm” and “Turn Left.” He hasn’t changed at all.

Not too many people know that City Lights, the first all-paperbook bookstore in America, was originally the idea of one Peter D. Martin. Ferlinghetti became co-owner in 1953 with a $500 investment, and bought out Martin for $1,000 a few years later. In 1955, he started the publishing company whose fourth book, Howl and Other Poems, led to sundry arrests and a huge upset victory in court when Judge Clayton Horn found both Howl and Ferlinghetti not guilty of obscenity.

The 60th celebration featured live music in Jack Kerouac Alley, free broadsides of poems by Ferlinghetti and Diane di Prima, fifty per cent off on City Lights books (I purchased A Coney Island of the Mind and San Francisco Poems–it just felt right), and a rare chance to see the 94-year-old poet, publisher and activist. Here are some pictures of the event. Because the bookstore itself is mostly dim inside, even with those huge front windows, photography is not easy in there, I had to edit everything one way or the other.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti on the Right (for Once), with an Unknown Interviewer, 23 June 2013

Lawrence Ferlinghetti on the Right (for Once), with an Unknown Interviewer, 23 June 2013

Tiles on the Floor from One of the Old Businesses

Tiles on the Floor from One of the Old Businesses that Used to Reside in the Same Building

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Perhaps an Idea for The Daily Post?

Perhaps an Idea for The Daily Post?

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Photographer Capturing the People Watching a Documentary of a Poetry Reading

Photographer Capturing the People Watching a Documentary of a Poetry Reading

Roll Your Own!, City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco, California, 23 June 2013

Roll Your Own!, City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco, California, 23 June 2013

If there exists one aspect of Ferlinghetti’s publishing, writing and retail careers that has come in for criticism in San Francisco, it lies in the fact that frankly, he has made a lot of money with his idiosyncratic little business where they don’t seem to mind if you spend hours reading on one of the many stools available. Yes, I have actually heard people complain that Mr. Ferlinghetti has made a decent living or better at poetry. I have heard many ridiculous things in my 31 years in my adopted hometown. This ranks in the Top 10. Instead of griping about how he has profited from other people’s poetry, why can’t they say that he has taken on The Man at His own game and beaten The Man at it? (for those of you too young to recall, “the man” was always written as “The Man” during the Sixties, even as the definition of “The Man” varied with almost every use). City Lights has somehow managed to survive as a tiny independent bookstore in an era when even the mightiest chain bookstores have fallen, at least for the time being, so I say let’s give Mr. Ferlinghetti credit.

Then I see something like this:

What Would Jack Kerouac Say?

What Would Jack Kerouac Say?

…and think that maybe the critics have a point.

And then I think again.

No. They don’t.

Keep on keeping on, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Long may you retail.

Vonn Scott Bair

Recipe: Tropical White Wine Spritzer

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Good Evening:

OK, I get it–a hot day in San Francisco is not really a hot day by normal American standards, and most people would relish the chance to “suffer” in pleasant 73 degree temperatures. But I had to run a ton of errands today, and when all was said and done and said and done and said and done, I needed to cool off.

During the course of my shopping, I had loaded up on 100% juice blends, seltzer water, and a bottle of white wine. I have enjoyed delicious success with “instant fruit sodas” before (a subject worthy of its own post), and could not help but wonder what would happen if I took a 12-ounce glass and filled it with, in chronological order:

  1. 3 oz. seltzer water, followed by
  2. 4 oz. mango peach nectar, followed by
  3. 4 oz. white wine (Pine Ridge 2012 Chenin Blanc/Viognier), followed by
  4. 1 oz. additional seltzer water

Optional final step: take said beverage outside onto fire escape, feel the incoming 7:00 p.m. ocean breeze, and watch the world pass by.

Quietly, calmly, blissfully, sensationally, relaxing. What a way to finish the day.

Vonn Scott Bair

Notes: Just about any tropical fruit juice blend should work, as long as it’s 100% juice, meaning no water, sugar, or other ingredients added. The Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc/Viognier is one of the most enjoyable wines from California, and you might find it at Trader Joe’s; if not, any Chenin Blanc or Viognier or Sauvignon Blanc should do.

Weekly Photo Challenge: The World Through Your Eyes – Editing Your World

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Good Evening:

First, a huge emphatic THANK YOU! to photographer Ming Thein for a great introduction to some (just a few!) of the elements of taking good photographs. Sorry for the shouting. One curious aspect of this great article: it made me think of some of the issues not covered in very much detail. Specifically, two: the eternal debate between color vs. black & white; second, the question of editing the picture after taking it.

I believe that one of the most important ways a photographer can show the world through his/her eyes consists of the editing done in post. Two reasons why: first, I’ve seen the output of professional photographers who have massaged their RAW files in Lightroom and Photoshop, and when I see the results in 16×20, sometimes I literally gasp; second, I’m very weak at editing so I assume it must be important.

In recent weeks, I’ve tried to capture my world using the tactics of Garry Winogrand, the most amazing photographer I’ve discovered since Sebastiao Salgado. Interesting paradox there–trying to see the world through my eyes using someone else’s techniques and style. Here is an unedited color photograph I took today from the observation tower of San Francisco’s De Young Museum:

DSCN6207Not a bad shot, capturing a couple looking to the west of San Francisco during the Magic Hour at 7:17 p.m. Note the two sets of reflections, one in the window, one on the floor. I stood on the other side of the tower, facing east, with my Nikon Coolpix S9100 (Landscape Mode) dangling at my side pointed backwards. Classic clandestine street photography. The shadows on her clothes and hair are a little dark, and the sky a little bright. However, since I wanted to experiment with Winogrand’s style of photography, that meant I had to convert to black & white. Presenting the first attempt:

DSCN6207_2I used iPhoto on a copy of the original (and I always try to use a copy–sometimes I even succeed!). First, I reduced Saturation to 0% to get black & white. Second, I reduced shadow by 20% to get a little more detail from their clothes and her hair. Third I reduced brightness by 35% because I thought the background sky was too distracting. Now something else distracted me: the diagonal shadow at the bottom and the two supports and their reflections at the extreme right and left of the picture. So I cropped.

De Young Observatory Tower, Ninth Floor, San Francisco, CA, 21 June 2013, 7:17 p.m.

De Young Observatory Tower, Ninth Floor, San Francisco, CA, 21 June 2013, 7:17 p.m.

This works for me. At least for now. Once I really learn editing I can go back to the original file. Here, all the attention rests on the couple and their reflections, the shot captures the mood, and you can instantly recognize the nature of their relationship (look at where they’re touching). I won’t pretend it’s great, but it is one of my better recent works.

And therein lies the paradox. To show the world through my eyes, I had to make the world completely artificial–because the world is not all black and white.

Vonn Scott Bair

Someone Notices the Contrast of White on White, 20 June 2013

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Good Evening:

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has closed for renovations and expansion (SFMOMA has grown too popular, and can no longer accommodate the hordes of culture-hungry humans who want to visit), but in a stroke of luck I managed to attend during its last weekend before closure. I’ll write about how the Garry Winogrand exhibit blew my mind later, but right now I want to focus on a mural on the top floor that lines a long corridor (technically, the Rooftop Garden Bridge) leading to the rooftop patio garden area and bar. The abstract art mural consists of nothing but various shades of white, but take a close look at this five pictures.

DSCN5919 DSCN5920 DSCN5921 DSCN5922 DSCN5923Have you noticed what they have in common and how they differ?

The answer is that I photographed the exact same section of the mural from five different angles, roughly 30, 60, 90, 120 and 150 degrees. This next picture explains everything.

DSCN5925Same color, different paints. Fascinating little (actually, very long, maybe 100 feet) experiment.

More on Rosana Castrillo Diaz, worth a click.

Vonn Scott Bair