Saturday, July 18, 2009

Photo Dumpster Diving

Hi there. This is me:

Not a very good version of me, admittedly, which is why I threw the photo away years ago — or so I thought.

You can learn a lot about people from the things the throw away. I haven't done too much dumpster-diving in my time, but they always seem to find something incriminating after a 10 second garbage inspection on most episodes of Law & Order, so it must be true.

My laptop has been on the verge of dying recently. I think I've been saying that for well over a year, but this time it looks like it means it. Whirring, stalling, and spinning beach balls of death happen when I try to use iPhoto, Apple's nice but memory-hungry photo organizing program. I shouldn't criticize iPhoto too much, as I'm definitely part of the problem: I just noticed that I have 9000 photos in my library, and I found that 1200 photos I thought I had been deleting over the years have remained hidden in the iPhoto trash bin. This is the biggest problem with digital photography: sure, you can take as many photos as you want essentially for free, but at some point you're going to have to deal with them, and dealing with them takes a lot of time.

I was just going to empty the trash bin, but I started looking through the pictures and got fascinated by the stuff I decided was garbage over the past 6 years. I thought I would share some of the best of the worst:

- I like visiting aquaria, and I inevitably try to take photos of the fish, but they rarely come out well because of the glass, movement, and low lighting:

This looks like the cover of a science fiction novel, but it's really just a bad picture from the aquarium at the London Zoo

- This is a picture of me holding smoked mackerel pâté, probably for some intended post on things found in British markets that Americans would find strange:

It was actually pretty tasty, but it made me long for real bagels

- Dozens of pictures of banana peels for some harebrained idea I had a while back:

A London banana

The Swiss apparently throw away whole bananas, but only in the forest

- Several people I don't know at all...

...and people I only pretend not to know

- My toothbrush that I had forgotten in Chiang Mai being fed to an elephant by my so-called friends:

Countless out-of-focus picture of plants and ones ruined by sudden gusts of wind:

Stupid wind

- Things I found hilarious at one point because I'm a 13-year-old boy at heart:

- Pictures of myself I found too embarrassing to keep, like the picture of me scrambling up a steep cliff in Raiatea. This sounds all cool and adventurous, and it was, but...well, the picture doesn't need much explanation:

Ass close-up, take 1

- Several completely mysterious things that could be called "art" if I was so inclined:


- Evidence that I tried to sing Kenny Rogers in Bangkok (and nailed it, I tell you):

You gotta know when to fold 'em

- Frightening numbers of redundant and unnecessary soda bottle pictures:

Lord knows why I took 5 shots of these

- Things that tasted great but didn't photograph well

Poisson cru - incredibly delicious, but not so lovely

I'm no food stylist, but it's hard to make a hog sandwich look pretty

- The last pink-hued gasps of my trusty Canon Powershot:

And evidence that I have watched at least one woman's rugby match

Well, there you have it, a glimpse at my photo garbage heap. I'm glad that iPhoto hung onto these, because now I can't bear to part with some of them. I did learn a few things from going through all of these old bad photos: a. don't take photographs of soda bottles random food items unless you actually have some use for them, b. delete the crap photos immediately after downloading them from the camera, c. don't leave your toothbrush in Chiang Mai, and d. don't let anyone take a pictue of you singing The Gambler.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Golden Gate Vertigo

No matter how much ground I try to cover, there always seems to be more to explore in San Francisco's Presidio. People often think of Golden Gate Park as San Francisco's largest park, and it is definitely large, just slightly besting New York's Central Park in terms of overall area (and number of bison). The Presidio is larger still and, while not a park in the traditional sense, it has miles of hiking trails, historical buildings to explore, a log cabin, a pet cemetery, George Lucas, and some of the most famous and breathtaking views in the state.

The Golden Gate Bridge from Battery East

I had set out to explore unfamiliar parts of the Presidio, but I got drawn in by a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge emerging from the fog and had to stop at Battery East to take some photos. I don't think it's possible to tire of the sight of the Golden Gate Bridge, and I doubt I'm alone in thinking that the fog only increases its beauty. Walking out along the ridgeline to get a view, I found that I was directly above Fort Point, one of my very favorite places in the Presidio, so I threw novelty out the window and opted for a long-overdue return visit to one of my all-time favorite places.

The approach to Fort Point

Fort Point sits directly on the south side of the Golden Gate overlooking narrow strait from the Pacific Ocean into San Francisco Bay. [Total nerdy factoid: Did you know that the Golden Gate refers to the land on either side of the strait, not the strait itself? Impress your friends.]

After the 1849 gold rush made San Francisco populous and wealthy, Fort Point was built by the US Army in the 1850s as a key point of defense along the Pacific coast for an invader that never materialized. In some ways, the Gate was an unfortunate choice of location, as it meant the soldiers manning the fort were constantly buffeted by harsh cold winds, and also it turned out to be the logical place to build a bridge to cross the strait some years later. The fort was thankfully spared during the building of the Golden Gate Bridge in the 1930s by the foresight of the bridge engineer Joseph Strauss who admired the building and altered the bridge design to accommodate it, despite the fact that Fort Point was not declared an official National Historic Site until 1970.

Even if you haven't visited Fort Point before, you might recall it as a setting for a famous scene in Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller Vertigo. Jimmy Stewart, tailing Kim Novak around San Francisco, follows her to Fort Point and sees her try to commit suicide by throwing herself into the water, and he rushes in to save her.

The Jimmy rescue, heels and all

It looks just about the same today

A lot of visitors, locals and tourists alike, will come to Fort Point for the views of the bridge and Alcatraz, to watch waves crash over the road during storm swells, or to say "Ooh, this is where that scene in Vertigo took place," but then dismiss the fort itself, which is a big mistake. There's really no downside: entry is free; it's much prettier and atmospheric inside than you would perhaps imagine from outside; and unlike many historic buildings, you can go nearly anywhere you want in Fort Point unguided, including four stories up to the open roof with incomparable views. If you go early in the day, especially on week days, you can have the place almost entirely to yourself.

Eastern hallway in morning light

Fort Point in the morning—no crowds

From the roof the bridge seems almost close enough to touch

Hitchcock did what many tourists do: treat Fort Point as a mere backdrop. If he had wanted to, Hitchcock could have taken advantage of some the vertigo inducing aspects of Fort Point itself - the steep castle-like spiral staircases and ladder-like ones from the inner courtyard, views over the ramparts to crashing waves, a lighthouse precariously perched on the roof - all with good movie potential.

The combination of the fort's history and architecture, the dramatic setting, and the bizarre juxtaposition of the towering bridge and the Gold Rush era fort make Fort Point a truly unique landmark and one of my favorite spots in San Francisco. If you go, go early to avoid crowds and slow traffic that crawls through the small Presidio roads on busy days. If you don't mind a walk (and a lot of stairs) and want a few more views of the bridge, park at Battery East and walk down the trail to Torpedo Wharf and west along the bay to Fort Point (~10 minutes). And if you decide to jump in the water with your heels on, make sure Jimmy Stewart is nearby.