Monthly Archives: October 2013

I Do Not Understand Reality, Special Urban Decay Edition! (30 Oct 2013)

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Good Evening:

What do you think of when you think of urban decay? Something like this?

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Think again, dear reader.

Think cosmetics. Women’s cosmetics.

During the course of my weekend chores, I blundered past sales booth at Macy’s devoted to a line of women’s makeup called Urban Decay (“Beauty with an Edge.”). The colors looked exactly the same as the colors of the makeup at the other booths, but hey, that’s just the guy writing–I’m sure that like any other clueless guy-type person, I could not detect the ob-vious, ever so ob-vious differences.

But I’m sure that Urban Decay (“Beauty with an Edge.”) fills a needs. I can easily that there are women out there who say, “If I can’t spread some decay on my face, then I won’t go out at all.” Or perhaps something like “I feel naked without some decay on my lips.”

Um, wait.

I can’t imagine any woman saying that. Let me try again. I can imagine a woman saying, “I don’t feel beautiful without Urban Decay on my face.”

No, actually, I can’t.

“Nothing brings out my inner beauty quite like decay.”

“My decay is beautiful.”

“Only decay can make my eyes look their best.”

Still can’t. But if I can’t understand why a brand name like Urban Decay is perfect for eye shadow, blush, or lipstick, then one must conclude that I Do Not Understand Reality.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–The Boston Red Sox just won the 2013 World Series. Looks like I’ve jinxed The Curse again and let the team its third championship in ten years. Probably still won’t get a World Series ring.

Grey Series: San Francisco’s West Coast During the Magic Hour, 27 October 2013 (Weekly Photo Challenge: Horizon)

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Good Evening:

Who needs another gorgeous sunset? Fluffy pink gossamer clouds in a dark sapphire sky as a perfectly round sun turns orange red and lights up the sea with its reflections?

Feh.

After 30+ years on the Pacific Coast, I have learned how to appreciate the normal San Francisco sunset, when fog and/or clouds roll in along with just the right brisk breeze–OK, howling near-gale-force wind–to instill in oneself the proper level of appreciation for hot chocolate, spiked or unspiked. Since so many of these Challenges seem custom-designed to drive me to the ruins of the Sutro Baths, yesterday’s Magic Hour was perfect.

In a sort of dark grey, gloomy, ghosts and goblins sort of perfect.

Wester Horizon, San Francisco, California, 27 October 2013

Wester Horizon, San Francisco, California, 27 October 2013

For all of these shots, I pulled out my Nikon D40 DSLR, but I left the polarizing filter on, despite the gathering darkness. I still don’t know why, but something about the American West seems to require some kind of filter to prevent pictures from coming out too brightly. Although the filter technically changes the light, the resulting pictures displayed what I actually saw (1/30th second exposures). No filter would have made the shots too light.

Two of the shots don’t qualify for my Grey Series, but they still have some interest.

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That bottom picture looks like something from a computer game of the adventure genre (e.g., Myst) where you need to find a message engraved on the far side of the boulder. Just two more for tonight, but truly grey shots, even if shot in full color.

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Vonn Scott Bair

San Francisco’s Eastern Coast During the Magic Hour (Weekly Photo Challenge: Horizon)

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Good Evening:

Sometimes, I just sit or stand in stark stunned shocked surprised stupid stupefied stupefaction at something San Franciscan. That’s what this city does to its denizens.

It makes them overuse the letter “s.”

I revisited Corona Heights to get a view of San Francisco’s eastern horizon during the Magic Hour today, which began shortly after 5:30 p.m. local time. I arrived just in time to witness another brilliant late afternoon autumn weekend view of the city’s eastern shore, the East Bay, and on the distant horizon, Mt. Diablo.

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Of course I took other pictures, starting with a pair of zoom shots of Mount Diablo.

Medium Zoom Shot of the Eastern Horizon from Corona Heights, 16 October 2013

Medium Zoom Shot of the Eastern Horizon from Corona Heights, 16 October 2013

Extreme Zoom Shot of Mount Diablo, Showing the Giants Ballpark in the Lower Left

Extreme Zoom Shot of Mount Diablo, Showing the Giants Ballpark in the Lower Left

I hadn’t noticed this crack in the boulder during my previous visit, another addition to my Grey Series.

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During the walk back home, I saw that Courtney’s Grocery had begun celebrating two holidays. Took a bit of experimenting, but eventually discovered that the Dusk setting worked best for the challenges posed by the combination of colored lights and gathering dusk.

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Vonn Scott Bair

Saturday Morning, 26 October 2013

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Good Morning:

The Page & Laguna Mini-Park does not come close to ranking amongst San Francisco’s smallest parks–we have “parklets” on Valencia no larger than a parking space–but it probably merits little or no mention in most tourist guides.

I rather feel sorry for the tourists.

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Some of San Francisco’s most San Franciscan points of interest don’t get much pointed interest except from the people who live on the same block as the point of interest. This time of year, Page & Laguna looks good enough before 8:00 a.m. to stop me from traveling downtown to take a few shots.

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San Francisco brings all kinds together. Not just humans, but plants:

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This fuchsia and this cactus literally grow adjacent to each other.

To me, the little gems of San Francisco constitute a better reason to visit than the better-known reasons. One of the most common reasons people give for visiting here consists of “shopping,” which has always struck me as odd; San Francisco has the only Apple Store in America? The only Macy’s? The only Nike? (and that’s just three blocks of Stockton Street, and I haven’t even mentioned Crate & Barrel, Forever XXI, and–oops, I just mentioned them).

I hope you have your own little gem of a weekend.

Vonn Scott Bair

Couples in San Francisco – A New Kind of Puzzle!

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Good Evening:

I’ve posted quite a few picture puzzles (such as this one, that one, and another one), but while going through my recent set of street photographs, I discovered a quartet with a repeating theme: pairs of humans. Indeed, speaking of pairs, I took one pair in front of City Hall and another in front of the Academy of Art on New Montgomery.

And yet, one of these four pictures differs from the other three in two ways So I present a new kind of puzzle: which picture is different from the other three in two ways, and what are those two ways?

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Take your time, have another look; which one is different and why?

Last chance…

OK, first of all, the trick picture is the bottom one; it’s the only one with one man and one woman, but that represents the only difference.

The correct picture is the second from the top. It differs from the others in two ways:

  1. The two men are significantly older than the others.
  2. They are the only two paying attention to each other, talking with each other, and not focused on their devices.

Hope you had fun with this one.

Vonn Scott Bair

How I Became the Curse of the Boston Red Sox–And How I Broke My Own Curse and Led the Team to Two World Series Championships

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Good Evening:

Gather around the virtual campfire, Faithful Readers, and listen as I regale you with a tale too bizarre to be true and yet too true to be false, too impossible to be possible and yet too impossible to be impossible, too impossible to be anything but the truth–the tale of how I became The Curse of the Boston Red Sox, and how I broke that curse and let them to two World Series victories.

The tale begins in 1978 during my college years. Perhaps perchance, or perhaps per the impish humor of the people who assigned students to dorm rooms, I lived on a peculiar floor with an odd number of students. I was literally the odd man out; exactly half of the other students hailed from the Boston Area. They were all Red Sox fans.

The other half hailed from New York City. They were all Yankees fans.

Oh, yeah. That fall semester got really hairy during baseball games during one of the all-time great pennant races. The Red Sox and the Yankees (possibly North America’s most ferocious professional sports rivalry) finished with identical 99-63 records, forcing a one-game playoff.  At the time, Boston fans believed that they suffered from “The Curse of the Bambino,” also called “The Curse of Babe Ruth.” They believed that because Harry Frazee had sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1918, the team had become cursed and would never win another World Series.

Now the Red Sox fans and the Yankee fans did not agree on much, but they did agree on one thing–I was absolutely, mind-boggling, totally, hopelessly and incurably insane to pass up on the game and instead visit the library to do my homework. All of my floormates united as one (for once) and they ripped me for not wanting to watch the game. To which I made this fateful reply:

“Why bother? I know how the game will end. The Red Sox will have either a 2-0 or 3-1 lead after six innings, choke, and lose 5-4.”

When I returned from my evening of study, my floormates said two very different things to me.

  • Yankees’ Fans: “Vonn! I’m taking YOU to the racetrack!!”
  • Red Sox Fans: “Vonn! I’m taking YOU to the racetrack!!”

Well, it sounded different.

And that’s how I replaced the Bambino as The Curse of the Red Sox. For roughly the next quarter-century, everything bad that happened to the Sox happened because of The Curse of the Bair. So you Bostonians can lay off Bill Buckner, please. Not his fault.

But then 2004 and the seventh game of the American League Championship Series came around. Boston had accomplished the impossible. They had forced a Game 7 after falling behind 3-0 in games. But would they choke again? Of course they would choke again. They were the Boston Red Sox. They suffered from The Curse of the Bair. They suffered from me.

But I suffered from guilt. By that time I had come to know a large number of Bostonians (all Red Sox fans, of course)–I had met them via the Internet. I had become their friend. I had come to know of their suffering, their pain, their tears, and through all this, despite all this, I had come to know of their courageous, inspiring, undying hope that some day maybe, just maybe, they would see their Red Sox win the World Series. And of course I had met the ultimate Red Sox fan, an elderly woman I’ll call DF who had never seen her team win the Series.

Do you really think that I could continue to live with this burden, knowing that DF, a grandmother, had never seen her Red Sox win it all?? That a few dozen Bostonians who called me their friend did not know that the Red Sox had not won the World Series because of me? Their friend?? The Curse had become more than a curse on the Sox–it had become an un-Bair-able (sorry) burden for me. Their Curse had become my Curse. I couldn’t take it anymore. So as the game began I logged into a BBS where I knew my Boston friends liked to hang out and confessed everything, all of my sins, and how I had become The Curse of the Red Sox. I begged forgiveness of my Boston friends and told them that I decided to confess to everything I had done to them since 1978 in the hope that I would jinx my own curse, destroy my own curse, and help propel the Red Sox to victory in Game 7 and then in the World Series. I logged off from the Internet, turned off the computer, and turned on the TV during the second inning.

Boston scored 4 runs that inning and won 10-3. My friends forgave me for everything.

And that’s how I became the true MVP of the 2004  ALCS. BTW, I’m still waiting for my ring.

Incidentally, before Game 7 I had predicted that if the Red Sox won, the St. Louis Cardinals also had to win their pennant, because if Boston was going to win the World Series, they should win it versus their historic nemeses from the National League. The Red Sox swept the Cardinals.

Believe it or not, there exists a sequel.

On the night of Game 1 of the 2007 World Series, I was eating a hamburger in a pub on 24th Street near Folsom, as I was going to a short film festival at the Roxie where I had acted in one of the movies. I espied a young gentleman in a Red Sox cap eating about six feet away. After giving him the traditional greeting all San Franciscans give people wearing Red Sox caps (“Hey! You must be a Yankees fan!”), we got to talking about the Series, and I told him the story of how I had once been The Curse of the Red Sox. He looked at me with this “Should I beat him up now or wait until he finishes the story?” expression on his face until I told him about how I had jinxed my own curse and helped Boston win that legendary Game 7. He said, “I hope you still have that curse jinxed.”

After the festival I felt quite surprised to see him in the auditorium. As it happens, he directed one of the other short films. He asked me if I knew the score of Game 1. I checked my “smart” phone (a Palm Treo 300).

“Boston won 13-1.”

“Come on, man, don’t mess with me.”

“See for yourself.”

“You just became my new good luck charm!!”

Boston won in four games.

I’m still waiting for that ring.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–But what does this mean for 2013? Have I become a Force For Bostonian Good that will win every World Series in which Boston plays? Or have I just jinxed the jinx that broke The Curse, leaving the Red Sox doomed to be 86’d for another 86 years??

PPS–I’m a San Francisco Giants fan; why did I become so important to an American League team, why did I become a Force for Bostonian Good, and so critical to the Red Sox’ success?!

The Extremely Extreme Close Up (Weekly Photo Challenge: The Hue in You)

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Good Evening:

Good Gracious, what be this exotic alien creature?!

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You can relax–Earth is not being invaded by extraterrestrial blobs which are stoned on LSD, getting high on Mendocino Gold, and consider The Grateful Dead the final word on fashion. Let’s pull back the camera a bit:

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Just another close up picture of an orchid at the Conservatory of Flowers.

When I studied the results of my earlier visit to the Conservatory, it became obvious that the innermost parts of the orchids deserved their moment in the sun. I also wanted to test the limits of cropping and blowing up shots taken with a 12 megapixel camera. Just about the only I care about megapixels (perhaps the most overrated statistic in photography) is when I crop and blow up shots to produce extreme close ups and extremely extreme close ups. The project proved quite difficult, with perhaps two-thirds of the shots coming out much too blurry, but about a sixth are worth your time, I hope. Some are less extremely close up, to give a sense of context for the flower.

The extreme close ups tended to turn out well after cropping, but the extremely extreme close ups seem to show a little pixelation, revealing the limits of 12 megapixels. Let me know if you agree. I do feel tempted to open copies of the files in a graphic editor and deliberately blurring the pictures, perhaps converting them into “watercolors” just to see the results.

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Pretty psychedelic, aren’t they? But check out this next pair:

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I doubt that this is another specimen of the orchid family, but colors like this belong in this post. Not to mention belong in San Francisco.

Vonn scott Bair

Blue & Green. (Weekly Photo Challenge: The Hue in You)

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Good Evening:

Tomorrow, Apple will host another one of its major press conferences in San Francisco, presumably to introduce product upgrades and refreshes. The company likes to rent one of the theaters in Yerba Buena and enclose it, Christo-style, in wildly colorful “wraps.” Such as this (photo taken near dusk today):

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You don’t seriously think I could resist taking closeups, do you? Well in fact, I had to resist, well in fact, temporarily restrain myself. Apple had sent a publicist, a photographer and two assistants to the scene at the same time to record the “wrap” (their technical term) for posterity. Very nice group of people, they didn’t want to get obnoxious with someone who’s been a customer for a quarter century, and this customer for a quarter century didn’t want to get obnoxious with a very nice group of people, so we took turns. Here they are, incidentally:

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I got out of the way and let them take pictures, and when they had finished with a particular setup, I would jump in take closeups, until they had gotten ready at their new setup, at which point I would jump out of the way, et cetera. Presenting now a few samples, focusing on the blue and green areas.

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These will all become additions to my Blue Series, Green Series, and my “The Minimally Artist Art of Instant Minimalist Art” series. This week’s Challenge has proven a fun one.

Vonn Scott Bair

Homelessness in San Francisco, 20 October 2013 (Weekly Writing Challenge: Living History)

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Good Evening:

Disclaimer/Warning 1: Not one of my usual posts, and definitely not one of my cheerful ones. Disclaimer/Warning 2: this post will demonstrate my lack of qualifications as a journalist.

So last weekend, as I embarked upon a Saturday of chores and photography, I opened the front door to my apartment building–and nearly tripped over the homeless man, Caucasian, 40s-50s, sleeping on the doorstep. Fortunately I managed to avoid stepping on, kicking, hurting or even touching him, but then I might have done something foolish; I asked him to move on. I walked down to my bus stop, and two minutes later this same man reeled up to me, still reeling from the amount of alcohol he had drunk the night before.

“Hey, man, gotta quarter?”

“No.”

He did not move on.

“Hey, man, are you gay?”

This was not an insult, nor was it an accusation. From his tone, I judged (and remain convinced) that he hoped that I was gay so that he could offer to trade sex for money.

“Sorry, no.”

He did not move on.

“Hey, man, you the a****** who woke me up?”

He approached me in a threatening manner, not knowing that I had a weapon in my hand. For that matter, I didn’t know I had a weapon in my hand until I used it.

Believe it or not, my camera:

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He turned away. When I demanded that he look at me, he chose instead to stagger across the street, in the middle of traffic. But he did not get hit, and I haven’t seen him since.

I’ve used that old Nikon S9100 for crime prevention before, see here.

Thanks to my use of The 30 Shot technique, I have been able to chronicle all aspects of city life without discovery; I present some of my pictures of the city’s homeless individuals, all taken with a point-and-shoot camera, ideal for this purpose as it is so inconspicuous. I’ve chosen not to edit them for the time being, preferring instead the sheer rawness of the situations portrayed.

Harassing a Woman Who Didn't Give Him Money

Harassing a Woman Who Didn’t Give Him Money

Thursday night, after a meeting of one of my theater groups: I stand at the intersection of 5th & Market waiting for my bus home. However, the Muni buses seemed behind schedule, so I used my phone to surf the web and find out when the next bus would arrive. Another homeless person, African-American, 20s-30s, about five foot nine, very muscular build, walked to within four feet in front of me, swaying left and right, backward and forward, eyes rolling about in their sockets. I didn’t like how he looked at me, so I stepped back two steps and looked him in the eye. He took two steps toward me. I tightened my grip on my phone and kept staring him in the eye.

He tried to snatch my phone anyway.

Passed on Haight Street at the Entrance to Golden Gate Park

Passed Out on Haight Street at the Entrance to Golden Gate Park

I don’t think drug addicts realize how debilitating their addictions can become. I snatched away my hand with ease before he could even see what had happened. He stared at the space where my hand and phone used to be.

“THIEF! TRYING TO SNATCH MY PHONE, THIEF!!”

I used my booming theatrically trained voice to bellow louder than most people can for two reasons: first, any nearby police would be alerted and come arrest the guy; second, the would-be thief would flee. Unfortunately, no police happened to be near. Unfortunately, the addict’s drugs had rendered him incapable of thinking and he just stood there.

‘THIEF! THIS MAN’S A THIEF!!”

No police, and he kept standing there. After a few seconds, he put up his fists.

“YOU WANT TO STEAL MY PHONE, THIEF??”

His fists dropped to his sides, and he said, “Got any spare change?”

Still no police, and he still would not leave.

“THIEF! TRYING TO SNATCH MY PHONE, THIEF!!”

He walked into the middle of Market Street. He had no idea where he stood, that he would soon get hit by traffic. Now I had to think of something to keep him from getting hurt.

“GO AWAY! GET OUT OF HERE!!”

That did the trick. Somehow he made to safety across the street and got out of my life.

Chewing on an Unwrapped Candy Bar, Powell Street and Ellis, 19 October 2013

Chewing on an Unwrapped Candy Bar, Powell Street and Ellis, 19 October 2013

While the above represents a straightforward description of recent events without embellishment, what follows now is journalism, something I do badly, so take care before accepting the rest of this as fact.

I moved to San Francisco during the big recession of the early 80s, when Paul Volcker chose some pretty drastic measures to rid the United States of the “stagflation” that had affected us during the Seventies. A lot of people at the bottom of the economic ladder lost everything and homelessness increased in San Francisco. I noticed the same phenomenon again in the early Nineties during the recession that marred and perhaps ended the administration of President George H. W. Bush. And again during the two recessions that have occurred so far during this millennium.

Now San Francisco seems to be experiencing another increase in the homeless population, and based upon what I have seen and experienced, the hostility level seems to have increased.

Which proves nothing except that I don’t know a thing about real journalism. A real journalist would have the ability to look up facts and figures to see the actual numbers from year to year since 1982. A real journalist might examine the actual numbers and say something like, “Vonn Scott Bair knows nothing of which he speaks. The facts are that there has been no correlation between recessions and increases in the percentage of homeless in San Francisco during the years he mentions.” Or whatever the actual truth might be–my point is that I might have only noticed homelessness at some periods during my life and been completely oblivious to the phenomenon at others. I strive not to conflate my personal experience for universal truth (sadly, my favorite mistake) and encourage you not to accept my word as gospel.

But as a thought experiment, let us pretend that for once my personal experience does represent universal truth. In that (unlikely) case, something different has happened during San Francisco’s current increase in our homeless population.

For the first time, it has occurred during one of our economic booms.

If this has happened before I have failed to notice it.

Two reasons (at minimum) explain this strange turn of events. First, the District Attorney’s Office has found proof that a local urban legend called “Greyhound Therapy” is in fact a reality; other states use Greyhound buses to ship their mentally ill homeless to California in general and San Francisco in particular. Specifically, we’ve caught Nevada in the act and suspect other states as well. Our DA has begun legal action to force the state of Nevada to reimburse San Francisco for the expenses we’ve incurred caring for the patients they have shipped to us.

(Optional reading: San Francisco will also ship the mentally ill homeless to other cities and states, if and only if a) they want to go there; b) they know people there; c) those people knows they’re coming; and d) those people are willing to receive them. Well, that’s what we tell ourselves. I don’t know which is worse; the fact that comparatively speaking San Franciscans consider themselves comparatively enlightened, or the fact that comparatively speaking San Franciscans might actually be comparatively enlightened.)

The other reason for the increased homelessness is the boom itself. The latest big mass eviction in San Francisco’s Mid-Market district consists of every resident in a “live-work” apartment building that failed to meet code. Too many units have no windows, which means that too many units have no fire escapes, which means that too many units would become lethal traps if a fire broke out. The city pretty much has no choice; it’s a matter of saving lives. But it does mean that over 50 people who paid rents one-fourth to one-fifth the going rate in San Francisco will have no place to go. They will have to leave the city (and probably the entire Bay Area) to find affordable housing.

If they can’t do that, I don’t know what will become of them.

And all because the city is booming one of its historically biggest housing booms. If the perceived hostility is in fact a reality, perhaps the housing boom explains why; all these thousands of new units, and yet people are forced onto the street because they can’t afford them.

But this represents pure speculation; technically, I don’t know what I’m writing about.

It feels as if San Francisco has gone swimming in a river with an unknown waterfall ahead (I’m borrowing a metaphor Faulkner sometimes used). We don’t know it, but we can maybe just maybe sense a little stronger pull, and that maybe just maybe it’s not yet time to worry, but we feel a bit more alert to something happening but we don’t know what it is.

Vonn Scott Bair

Weekly Writing Challenge: Living History

Purple. (Weekly Photo Challenge: The Hue in You)

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Good Afternoon:

San Francisco needs more purple.

There. I said it. And I won’t take it back, either, because that’s just the kind of cantankerous, rambunctious, rebellious dude that I am. Our thousands of murals include surprisingly little purple, tragic given that this royal color happens to be my all-time favorite. Forthwith, a very small sample from two of the very few murals in this city that use the color.

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I can’t imagine why such a dramatic color doesn’t appear on more of our dramatic murals.

Vonn Scott Bair

Grey Series: Recent Pictures (Weekly Photo Challenge: The Hue in You)

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Good Evening:

Longtime readers know that I like to collect series of pictures featuring all sorts of objects of a single color (just search for “blue“) or two (just search for “white & blue“). They also know that I consider grey the most underrated color of them all. Needless to say, this week’s Challenge will prove a rather easy one. Here are some recent Grey shots. All of these are full-color shots using all three of my cameras (two Nikons and my iPhone).

When I saw this one (another example of how “the surreal is that which lies at your feet“) at the outbound 38-Geary bus stop at Geary & Arguello, I immediately changed all of my plans and sought similar at other bus stops.

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Sadly, this remained the one I could find. I wanted to find silver–you know, a greyish color.

Nature of course remains a fearsome competitor when it comes to grey.

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We have weird dots at work. Sometimes they look interesting.

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Grey psychedelia. Who would have guessed?

These come from some of the friezes at Buena Vista Park.

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And a parking lot a few blocks from work.

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I conclude with a few random shots from places around this random town.

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Thus concludes my latest attempt to revolutionize the general perception of grey.

Vonn Scott Bair

Trying to Get the Picture Right, 19 October 2013

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Good Evening:

Humbled Pie, who has a very good photography blog, recommended that I try converting one of my recent pictures into black-and-white. That sounded like a good idea to me, too! The picture comes from my photo essay of people at work in San Francisco. When I reexamined it, some little flaws in the original became obvious.

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I like to crop pictures to eliminate distractions, and it occurred to me that while I had straightened, cropped and adjusted the lighting and shadows, too much remained. In particular, the upper left corner was too red, distracting from the reddish tones in the lower half of the shot. So back to the virtual chopping block!

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A little better. One little issue; the red of the bus has become a distraction. Now for some experimenting.

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The first black-and-white is just the first shot in a simple conversion. Both shots diminish the reddish background, and the messenger and his bike seem to pop out of the background better. I have a slight preference for the cropped version because the upper left corner still proved problematic, but now I have an issue with both cropped pictures: are the man’s left foot and the bike’s front wheel too close to the edge of the composition? I honestly don’t know, but my instinct wants a little more space. But that would reintroduce the problem of the upper left corner.

Tough call. Good street photography poses so many challenges.

Finally, a happy accident. I was desaturating the photo in iPhoto to get rid of the color when my finger slipped off the mouse. I almost cursed my clumsiness until I saw something

Namely, this:

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It’s interesting! Removing most of the color in the background really draws attention to the foreground.

I’ll have to remember to try partial desaturation more often. Have a great weekend full of great pictures.

Vonn Scott Bair

Trying to Get the Picture Right, 18 October 2013

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Good Evening:

Last Saturday I walked through San Francisco’s SOMA District (South Of MArket) during the course of my chores, and happened past an alley with both an unusual light and an unusual scene.

Homeless Man in Alley, San Francsico, CA, 12 October 2013, Original Shot

Homeless Man in Alley, San Francsico, CA, 12 October 2013, Original Shot

This homeless man seemed to have a fight with his own clothing, a kind of wrestling match, perhaps it felt uncomfortable. Notice the light on the building next to him. The sun’s light bounced off the windows of an office building on the other side of the alley and bounced off the bricks of the building you can see, yielding those bright patches of light. When I studied the picture at home, it reminded me of the paintings of the Futurist School of the 1920s with their emphasis on machines, skyscrapers and other mechanized marvels of the era.

In simple English, another opportunity to try and get a picture right. For this exercise, I used only iPhoto to edit copies of the original shot, which I took with my Nikon CoolPix S9100 point-and-shoot.

Since photography of the 1920s was black-and-white, I tried a straightforward conversion and adjusted the bright areas and the shadows.

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You can probably spot two major flaws in both pictures so far. You probably spotted the excessive foreground with too much shadow, and the building at the right edge of the shot doesn’t belong (at least to my eyes). So I tried a simple crop.

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DSCN9349_3Except it isn’t so simple. Both required further tweaks to sharpen focus, slightly different adjustments to the shadowed and bright areas, and I decided that I cropped too much. Also, the shot needs a B&W treatment, no matter what else I do. So another try:

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Better, except for two new problems. The man somehow feels just a little too centered in the composition. Second, I decided that my initial judgment was correct–I need to crop out the building on the right edge. So back to the drawing board, I mean the darkroom, I mean the digital darkroom:

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As my editing skills improve and I learn to use more sophisticated tools such as Photoshop, I might go back and get this shot really right, but this will do for now. The shadow belongs, suggesting approaching darkness threatening the solitary figure. The protruding pseudo-columns of the building seem to shove him to the side and loom over him like a giant fence, giant wall, or giant jail cell bars suggesting that the man is trapped and has no escape from his environment. I even like the lack of detail in his face, emphasizing an anonymous, faceless soul with no place to go.

Unfortunately, that really is his life.

But enough of my yammering, chattering, pseudo-learned critical discourse. I know that many of my readers include some of the best photographers, amateur or professional, on all of WordPress. What sort of reactions to you have to the piece and my attempts to improve it?

Vonn Scott Bair

Butterflies (Weekly Photo Challenge: Infinite)

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Good Afternoon:

One of the other bloggers used the “infinite beauty of nature” as inspiration for a post, and that post was so good it inspired me in return. All photos taken at the Conservatory of Flowers “Butterflies and Blooms” exhibit today with a Nikon CoolPix S9100. I guess the biggest surprise is that some of these critters have translucent wings, almost as transparent as stained glass. Such as the dapper fellow immediately below.

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Vonn Scott Bair

Perspective Study, Fort Point, San Francisco (Weekly Photo Challenge: Infinite)

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Good Evening:

I noticed some interesting perspective studies in some of the other responses to this week’s Challenge and thought I would try my hand at some, so off to Fort Point for me!

Fort Point must rank among San Francisco’s more underappreciated and undervisited attractions, which puzzles me; Kim Novak threw herself into the San Francisco Bay near here in Vertigo. When I visited, most of the other visitors consisted of a large group of female students from Hogwarts Academy, led by their chaperone, the Assistant Headmistress of that august institution. Yes, I wrote that last sentence. Welcome to San Francisco, where you can’t make up stuff–it’s all true. Unfortunately, they left before I could document their presence.

Fort Point Corridor, San Francisco, California, Shot #8

Fort Point Corridor, San Francisco, California, Shot #8

San Francisco became the dominant American city on the North American west coast during the 19th Century, and yet given its strategic importance, Fort Point does not seem to have housed our better military. The personnel who manned the artillery seem to have had quite the reputation for inaccuracy, but that might have resulted from their level of alcohol consumption (significant), and their daily sustenance (abysmal). The garrison received two meals per day, 14 per week. Thirteen consisted of meat and hard tack. The fourteenth was a special occasion–meat, hard tack, and stewed prunes. Let us see: severe vitamin deficiencies and interesting bowel situations; I can see why they might have their troubles. Given the severe military threats that San Francisco faced (i.e., nonexistent), the soldiers must have been bored out of their minds (much like their Spanish predecessors) , and since they had a limited supply of cannonballs (always an excellent idea for a fort), they rarely practiced their craft; what was the point?

These remaining pictures have nothing to do with the Challenge; they appear solely to make the case that Fort Point is worth a visit during your next trip to San Francisco, esp. if you like to practice photography. I used my Nikon D40 for all of these shots, choosing the built-in Sepia setting for the picture of the cannon.

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Vonn Scott Bair