Monthly Archives: October 2013

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

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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