Category: The Arts

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Teachable Murals

If there were alternate realities, in another my wife and I would have purchased what we call the Schoolhouse nearly five years ago. Location, nearby Alice Birney Elementary, was one of the appealing attributes—that and misguided speculation San Diego would never allow any type of overdevelopment nearby the kids.

A block-long, multi-residence high-rise is under construction across from the school and SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome Coronavirus 2)/COVID-19 restrictions kept away students for more than a year. Both are ambience-killers. We’re better off with the decision made in this reality.

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The Nikon Shooter

The day is June 10, 2006. I drive my daughter and friend to the mall in Columbia, Md. when we unexpectedly come upon the Festival of Arts event, where cardboard boat races are underway. I pack Nikon D200, which comes out to shoot some of the activities, including the Featured Image. If I recollect rightly, the portrait is not one previously shared. Vitals: f/6.3, ISO 100, 1/160 sec, 200mm; 1:07 p.m. EDT.

The Nikon shooter evokes a bygone photographic era, before the ascent of mirrorless cameras displaced digital SLRs. Yes, professionals still use them, but a journey to any photo forum reveals a massive migration to smaller bodies and more compact lenses.

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You Are Nobody

Yesterday, after photographing the bicycle traffic light, I continued along University Avenue in San Diego’s Hillcrest neighborhood before stopping to wonder at the mural that is the Featured Image and companion. The first hugs cross-street Sixth and the second is along the main throughway.

Is this who we are after two years of masking during the SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome Coronavirus 2)/COVID-19 crisis? Faceless? So stripped of humanity to be utterly featureless, without even eyes? Whatever the artist’s intent, I see an overt—not even hidden—message: You are nobody. In a society where even gender is disputed, maybe no identity is the only rendition to depict.

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The Lawn God

I don’t know what to make of this thing. Do you? There is something about the, ah, artwork that conjures images of animal idols worshipped by ancient cultures. As such, I am somewhat hesitant to share the Featured Image, captured today using Leica Q2 Monochrom. Vitals, aperture manually set: f/5.6, ISO 200, 1/800 sec, 28mm; 12:44 p.m. PDT. I took another at f/2.8 but prefer this shot.

My understanding is that goats are often associated with the occult or Satan worship. For sure, there is a whole lot of potential symbolic imagery to associate with this thang—and all of it beyond my knowledge to decipher. For example, what’s that emblem on the metal stake through the skull? Are those hanging cogged machine wheels supposed to represent overly large testicles? Or do I make something out of nothing—someone having merely cobbled together junk to make a personal showpiece?

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Stump Sculpture

I vaguely remember when, a few years ago, one of my neighbors created this lawn art over the course of several days. Chainsaw comes to mind as main tool, but my recollection is sketchy. Until shooting the Featured Image, though, I didn’t understand that a massive, magnificent tree reached skyward several stories above the roof. Google Street View reveals what was.

The stump sculpture has aged quite nicely, baked in the San Diego sun.

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The Painted Garden

Around University Heights and adjacent San Diego neighborhoods, I see more murals like this one: Painted on personal property, not necessarily a business. They add magnificent charm and character—and individualized flare that pops compared to nearby houses.

I feel for the homeowners, who deserve to stake out some semblance of freedom and peace. The mural faces the forever commercial construction site across the alley separating Georgia Street and Park Blvd at Monroe. In June 2015, a house sitting on that corner at Park sold for $525,000. The worksite has existed for so long that I can’t recall dates when. But using Google Maps Street View snapshots over time, I see that demolition and early construction commenced no later than June 2016—for a lumbering, three-and-a-half story mixed-use business and residential building far from finished.

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The Film Shooter

My wife and I made Panorama Drive part of our Sunday walk routine—entering the loop at Louisiana. After we exited onto Alabama, at cross-street Madison, Annie pointed out a group of people meandering down the sidewalk ahead. She wondered if we should choose another way. Understanding that everyone would have to squeeze by, I asked to continue on. Before proceeding even 10 paces, I saw the cameras. Lots of them. We had come upon an apparent photo walk.

We passed through the throng, with many people stopping to shoot anything and everything about. University Heights is one of San Diego’s oldest neighborhoods. As such, in part because of different construction eras—following world wars, for example—the housing architecture is distinct and varied. The contrast is striking compared to what locals call North County, where whole areas of homes look one and alike.

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Never Rest, San Diego

About 10 minutes after photographing the “Roarin’ Riders and the First Responders” on Nov. 6, 2021, I came across building art that is the Featured Image. The pair of murals are on the alley side of Belching Beaver Brewery in North Park—between El Cajon Blvd and Howard Avenue. The irony about the “people come before profit” sentiment is its placement on a commercial building selling pricey gourmet booze—or am I missing something here?

While I carried Leica Q2, iPhone 13 Pro made the moment, by taking advantage of the ultra-wide lens. Vitals: f/1.8, ISO 32, 1/405 sec, 13mm; 2:10 p.m. PDT. Because of obstructions, I couldn’t back up far enough with the camera to include both murals. Hence, the choice of the smartphone.

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Your Art is Garbage

Honestly, if not for the storytelling value, you would not be looking at the homage to narcissism that is the Featured Image. While walking in the San Diego neighborhood of University Heights on Sept. 6, 2021, my wife spotted something in the middle of the intersection at Georgia and Meade. She fetched what turned out to be a mounted print laying face down on the asphalt. Somewhat shocked by the strangeness of the find, she set the abandoned art against a utility poll, pulled out iPhone XS, and snapped a photo. Vitals: f/1.8, ISO 25, 1/530 sec, 26mm; 6:13 p.m. PDT.

I find the thing to be rather repulsive. Near as I can understand from standard web searching, the print is “Armed Forces” from the Hat Series by Chinese painter Yue Minjun. His works depict himself—so, yeah, he is each of the seven smiling weirdos that you see. There’s something oh-so unsettling and insanely appropriate about his style at a time when social media and smartphones propagate narcissists like mold in the damp walls of a leaky house.

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The Music Box

This must rank as the strangest thing seen in any University Heights yard—and I wonder what is the backstory. Is a harp inside the crate? Was an instrument delivered or waits pick up? Could the rustic box be placed as a lawn ornament, recognizing that no rain is expected to fall in San Diego for months? Surely even empty the wooden container is valuable—for collectible vintage, shipping usability, or both.

My wife and I passed by the crate, earlier today, while walking along Mission near Florida. Later, I left her at our apartment and returned to shoot the Featured Image and companion—both using Leica Q2. Vitals for the first, aperture manually set for both: f/4, ISO 100, 1/250 sec, 28mm; 9:36 a.m. PDT.

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Birds in a Tree (Hey, It’s Art!)

I rarely walk along Georgia Street between El Cajon and Meade but traipsed there today, hoping to see either Husky or Romper—both profiled in my “Cats of University Heights” series after separate sightings. Approaching El Cajon, I came upon the oddest thing: a metal mobile hanging from a tree alongside the outside wall of a commercial building. I wondered: Why here? Home decoration makes sense, but before a facade of bricks? How odd. That said, what’s more appropriate than birds in a tree?

Location presented excellent opportunity to capture mobile and The Boulevard sign in the background. The Featured Image, which is composed as shot, comes from Leica Q2. Vitals, aperture manually set: f/4, ISO 100, 1/640 sec, 28mm; 3:41 p.m. PDT. In post-production, I experimented with several different lighting scenarios—one that silhouettes tree and metallic birds—before choosing the one you see.