Monday, March 28, 2011

On the sculpture trail: meet Edward James Muybridge , the “father of cinema,“ in San Francisco

The sculpture of Eadward James Muybridge, the “father of cinema,” has been placed only a few steps away from the sculpture of Philo Farnsworth, the “inventor of television.” Eadweard Muybridge conducted photographic experiments with trotting horses on the Palo Alto Stock Farm at Stanford, south of San Francisco, in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. He wanted to prove his theory that, at one point in its steady gait, a trotter has all four feet off the ground. The relief of horse-riding snapshots, designed half-way around the middle part of the sculpture, are referring to those first advances in capturing moving objects at speed—the early days of film making.

Rebecca Solnit passionately portraits Muybridge and his time, during which discoveries in science and technology were still connected with art, yet in most cases depending on successful business, sponsorship and funding as today. A time of both roughness and freedom: opportunities did not simply appear for free. She gave her fascinating account the fitting subtitle “Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West,” weaving together biography, history and Californian landscapes [1]: Edward James Muggeridge [his name varies, depending on source text, and was also changed by himself] was born on April 9, 1830, in Kingston-upon-Thames not far from London in England. He was forty-two when his love for bodies in locomotion resulted in motion studies. Muybridge called himself a “photographic artist” and is often described as flamboyant or odd, an outlandish character novelists wish they had invented [2].

By the way, Muybridge's motion subjects were not just horses. His film strips also show female dancers as well as nude male walkers and disk throwers.

References and suggested reading
[1] Rebecca Solnit:
River of Shadows. Penguin Books Ltd, London, England, 2003.
[2] Mitchell Leslie: The Man Who Stopped Time [Stanford Magazine].

Sunday, March 27, 2011

On the sculpture trail: meet Philo Farnsworth, the “inventor of television,“ in San Francisco

This sculpture of Philo Tayler Farnsworth (1906-1971) is located in the Presidio of San Francisco, California. The sculpture can be found in the park area next to the Letterman Digital Arts Center. Coming from the Marina district, just continue on Lombard Street into the Presidio and look to your right. The picture includes the Palace of Fine Arts Exploratorium in the background.

A plaque describes Philo T. Farnsworth as the “inventor of television.” He holds a video camera tube (cathode ray tube)—a sculptured version—in his right hand. A “TV set” is standing to his left. Phil is connected with San Francisco through the tinkering, research and technology he pursuited in his laboratory at the bottom of Telegraph Hill at the corner of Green and Sansome Streets [1]: On September 7, 1927, he and his “Lab Gang” succeeded in transmitting a blurry image of line. In the following years they advanced in sending further signals and shapes.

Thus was shaped the way in which our grandparents were and how we are (although mostly on flat screens now) seeing and experiencing the world: tsunamis of information and ever faster waves of manipulation. The greens and landmark spots of the Presidio make a perfect landscape/cityscape to meditate on history and to re-invent or enhance your own vision.

References and more
[1] Susan Saperstein:
Philo Farnsworth and Green Street [].
[2] Ingrid Taylar:
Letterman Digital Arts Center at the Presidio [].
Philo T. Farnsworth (1906-1071), Electronic television [].

Saturday, March 19, 2011

On the lighthouse trail: Fort Point underneath the Golden Gate Bridge

The Fort Point lighthouse at the southern end of the Golden Gate is the second-built lighthouse of California [1]. The present, diminutive Fort Point Lighthouse is the third to stand at this point [2]. On top of the fort's roof and underneath the roadbed of the Golden Gate Bridge, it indeed makes a dwarf appearance, when compared with typically erect and stand-alone lighthouse structures dominating a shoreline silhouette.

Trailing through Fort Point's former bedrooms and exhibits, you can find a lot of information and interesting historical photographs of Fort Point and the Golden Gate Bridge: The U.S. Lighthouse Service keepers extinguished the light of the third lighthouse for the last time in 1934, due to the construction of the bridge, which now connects the tip of the San Francisco Peninsula with the southern end of the Marin Headlands.

The first lighthouse was build in 1853, around the time when the United States Goverment funded the construction of a chain of 59 lighthouses along the coast of California. The Fort Point structure was one of thirteen serving San Francisco Bay, making the passage through the treacherous water of the Golden Gate a little safer. The first lighthouse was replaced by a second one near the water in 1855, when the construction of the fort began. The second lighthouse was removed to permit construction of a seawall and the third Fort Point light was finished in 1864.

My favorite architectural element of this lighthouse: the open spiral staircase.

[1] San Francisco Bay: Fort Point Light.
[2] Fort Point, CA.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A sea lion at the pier near the Crissy Field Warming Hut

A sea lion consumes from 15 to 20 pounds of fish a day [1]. This one is looking for fish in the San Francisco Bay around the pier east of Fort Point near the Warming Hut. There are people fishing here and maybe some fish will slip off the pier. This sea lion is begging for it.

Sea lions, like other pinnipeds, typically show well-developed cognitive and learning abilities. Our friend here probably associates the presence of human beings above the water surface with the occasional drop of fishy remains. Although some sea lions are afraid of people, this one enjoys watching them. Biologists refer to this behavior as habituation. For example, Zalophus on some Galápagos Islands is rarely frightened by people [2]: Sea lions on islands in the Galápagos frequently visited by people seem to be more tame than those inhabiting the less accessible, more remote islands. At the Golden Gate, sea lions have to get used to surfers and boat traffic and fishermen are their friends (although not vice versa). Further out at sea, around the Farallon Islands their attention surely will focus more on sharks.

References and further reading
[1] Tom Stienstra:
California WildlifeA Practical Guide. Avalon Travel Publishing, Inc., Eneryville, California, USA, 2000; pp. 332-336.
[2] Marianne Riedman: The Pinnipeds
Seals, Sea Lions, and Walrusses. University of California Press, Berkeley, 1990; page 315.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A place of renewal: Crissy Field

Crissy Field was designated a National Historic Landmark in the early 1960s, along with the entire Presideo of San Francisco. An information board at the Warming Hut Park Store & Cafe informs that Crissy Field was a rich salt marsh and homeland of Ohlone people before it became a landing site for Spanish and Russian explorers. Later it was turned into a venue for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition and a pioneering United States military airfield.

Today it is a spectacular 100-acre shoreline park at the center of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area—a place from where to look underneath the Golden Gate Bridge or across San Francisco Bay or to watch nearby kitesurfers. And birdwatchers may want to scan the beach, small sand dunes or water surface as well as the partially restored tidal marsh and lagoon, which once was a fishing, hunting and gathering place of native people, before the U. S. military started dumping Presidio's trash here. Now, native plant species such as yerba buena, bracken fern and soap root have been reintroduced to the area. A place of renewal, indeed.

Après-tsunami kitesurfing in the San Francisco Bay

The strong earthquake in Japan triggered a Tsunami alert for places along the coast of California on March 11, 2011. A small wave struck the coastline in the morning. Hours after the tsunami people were jogging along beaches as usual and San Francisco Bay was filled with tour boats and sailing boats. Windsurfers and kitesurfers (parasurfers) also were back on the waves taking advantage of the nice weather and steady winds, seen here between the Crissy Field shoreline and Alcatraz Island. The broad, promenade-like trail connecting the Marina Green with Fort Point offers perfect views on off-shore activities. And in case of an approaching tsunami, there may be time enough to run uphill to the elevated parts of the Presidio.