Now With 49ers

A semi-surprise mailday from Andrew (@earthtopus). He’s a Tampa Bay fan/collector who focuses on the Bucco Bruce Creamsicle era. It’s no surprise that his plain white envelope was a bit of silliness and a bit of trolling.

I’m not a football card collector nor am I really a football fan anymore. But these are all from the era when I did care, sometimes a lot, about the 49ers and it’s fun to be reminded of that part of my youth.

Steve Young

1987 Topps Steve Young. I totally missed “the ”Now With 49ers” when I opened the envelope and thought this was just meant to be an amusing look at Young as a Buccaneer. Seeing that minuscule “traded” stamp makes it even funnier as this is technically now the first card of Young as a 49er. I don’t remember much about him in those first seasons with the Niners beyond never feeling comfortable when he had to sub in for Joe Montana.

Football Brothers: Chris and Matt Bahr

But the Young card makes a nice pair, of sorts, with this 1982 Topps card. Andrew just had to remind me of Matt Bahr 15–49ers 13. While that wasn’t how I remembered the game (Roger Craig’s fumble hurt me more), I never really put together that that was also Montana’s last real 49ers game too. Which means it also marks the beginning of the Steve Young era.

Tampa Bay Play Action Tampa Bay Play Action 1978 Topps

LOL this is hilariously dire. I appreciate that Fleer included Tampa in it’s 1978 set of football action but the dig on the back about “finally broke into the victory column” makes it seem like it took them three seasons to finally win a game instead of the 0–26 record they had before winning their first.

Doug Wiliams

The 1981 Topps Sticker of Doug Williams wasn’t meant to be silly. As with seeing Steve Young as a Buc, it’s also weird to see Williams as one since we’re all used to him with Washington.

1992 Pro Set Spirit of the Game 1992 Pro Set Spirit of the Game

What the hell is going on in 1992 ProSet? Is that a fake bottle of rum and a plastic child’s katana standing in for a dagger? And putting a glossy spin on there being two Steve DeBerg eras? Sheezus. I may not like Malcolm Glazer but I’m happy for any Tampa fans who stuck with the team through thin and thin until that Super Bowl.

Mark Carrier 1991 Pro Set Mark Carrier

This spanish-language 1991 ProSet card on the other hand has me jealous that there weren’t any real spanish-language cards for baseball at this time. Googling around lead me into discovering Pacific though so now I have a potential new collecting lead to run down for baseball cards. And I get to indirectly thank Andrew for that rabbit hole.


Also at SFMOMA

Having visited Pier 24 that morning and having viewed the Mike Mandel show first, I did a quickish walk through of the rest of SFMOMA. There wasn’t any other big exhibition which I had on my must-see list and, after having done a comprehensive walkthrough the previous year I was able to quickly visit my favorite rooms and wander through the other special exhibitions.

So I stuck my head into the always-excellent Agnes Martin room and made my way through the vestigial old galleries on the second floor to remind myself of the SFMOMA I used to know and love. It’s still there as a shell of its former self. I’m glad that more and more of it is being integrated into the new building even while it seems like the focus is increasingly on “the canon” of old white guys as opposed to the weird California stuff it used to be doing.

Yes, the Mandel show is both very weird and very Californian. But it’s not what the museum has been trumpeting. Instead all I see is press about Edvard Munch and Walker Evans and other shows which, while I agree with the artist’s importance, very much make me think that I’m no longer part of SFMOMA’s desired audience.

Edvard Munch

The Munch show is fine. Very FAMSF, but fine. The paintings are good to see. The brushwork is interesting and the color is fantastic. Just, I have no idea why it’s here. Part of me wants to be generous and suggest that this is intended to be a connection to Femme au chapeau and how a decade ago SFMOMA seemed to be setting that up to be their iconic painting.

The rest of me feels like that’s a total reach. This is art presented as something important because it’s by a famous artist. There’s even a line to take photos of the painting which looks the most like The Scream. There’s actually very good wall text about how he worked with models and had to deal with severe childhood trauma* but even with that the show feels like something which is geared toward moving merchandise in the gift shop.

*He’s an asshole but for sympathetic reasons. 

And I’m not inherently against that goal. It is, after all, something that helps museums stay in business. Just, in this case, it feels like a cynical cash grab.


Thankfully not all the shows are like the Munch one. Soundtracks is great and confirms that the top floor is likely to be the first place I head after I hit the photography wing. Besides being the floor of contemporary art where SFMOMA attempts to balance out the demographics on display in the rest of the museum, in this case that the exhibition is about sound was a welcome change of pace from the visual nature of the rest of the museum.

It was fun to revisit Ragnar Kjartansson. It’s always a good sign when I’m going to enough museums that I’ll catch a contemporary piece in multiple locations. I first saw The Visitors in DC, it’s interesting to see it in a smaller room with a different layout of screens. I preferred the more spread-out DC installation but SFMOMA’s framing of this as less about the performance-art nature of the piece and more about the music in it meant I got to try a different perspective and isolate each instrument in the score with the musician.

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s large pool of floating bowls is also great. It’s an obvious showstopper just based on the visuals—despite the request for people to not take photos everyone was taking photos—but more importantly, the bowls sounded wonderful. The different combinations of sizes produced a handful of clear, pure tones which sounded like bells. I can see wanting to sit by myself just watching and listening to this for a long time.

Other fun highlights included: Rafael Lozano Hemmer’s pieces—especially Sphere Packing and the way it works as a history of music, visually compares different composers’ outputs, and totally messes with our expectations for how music is supposed to be consumed. And Amalia Pica’s Switchboard which takes a childhood game and turns it into something which encourages interacting with other museum goers.

Noguchi’s Playscapes

The design gallery this time had an exhibition of Noguchi’s unrealized playground designs. It’s always great to see design in a museum where the “how will this be used” question is clearly at the forefront of the process. These are all design and architecture for human use and health and it’s a shame that only a couple of them were ever built.

Looking at them today I couldn’t help but envision them as being clad in the now-typical rubber safety padding that would allow them to be built without the safety concerns which seemed to sideline so many of these in their day.* Heck, a lot of the standalone structures such as the cylindrical stairs/slide combination look like things that could work today as smaller plastic playspaces for little kids.

*Though having played on enough cast-concrete playgrounds as a kid these don’t look any less safe than what passed as water-play structures in the 70s and 80s.

The best of the rest

The Nam June Paik show is fun. I most-enjoy the sketches which play with language and character forms. There’s a sense of spontaneity and play in pushing what the symbols mean, or could mean, which just makes me smile. His more TV-centered work doesn’t grab me as much.

It’s also always neat to see the SECA Art Award winners. I only ever expect to really like one of the artists on display—the newer the art the more likely we are to run into Sturgeon’s Law issues—and this time was no different. In this case I really liked Sean McFarland’s work. McFarland works in photography poking at the grey area between truth and representation that most photographers tend to ignore. So he takes photographs and provokes them in the printing to show how they’re artificial. Or he finds simple objects like broken glass and photographs them so that our brains fill in the details and think they’re a mountain landscape.

Frazier Falls


Drove to this hike from Packer Lake and fully expected to see a ton of water this time. It did not disappoint. Where previous years had been a trickle this year was impressive.




The problem with using words like breathtaking and amazing and awesome so often is that when something like this comes around which is all those and more, none of those words feels adequate.

I’ve been working for a while on finding words to describe the total eclipse. My immediate reactions were pretty basic: “Goddamn that was a short two minutes” and “I completely understand why people chase these.” But they hint at the shift in understanding that I underwent.

I knew about this eclipse* over 6 years ago. I knew what to expect when totality occurred. But that moment when the sun disappears in your glasses, you take them off, and the Corona is just there. Glittering. And that black disc where the Sun used to be. It’s beyond comprehension. There’s no way to possibly be prepared for it.

*and had loosely coordinated with family friends in Boise about visiting.

I felt something similar last year when I saw Halema‘uma‘u in person and realized how the earth was literally alive and breathing. I don’t think I’d even absorbed how much it effected me when I wrote about it. But when I saw the smoke billow out of of the crater I gained a fundamental respect for this power which I’d never realized I was missing.

The Hawaiian term “mana” captures the sense how things can have a powerful essence that you just feel in your gut. The ocean has mana. Volcanos and lava have mana. A total eclipse of the sun has mana. Seeing it. Experiencing it. Sensing how powerful the Sun is even—if not especially—when it’s blocked by the Moon altered my understanding of everything. I “knew” what I was seeing, I just didn’t properly understand it at that deep fundamental sense of knowing.

The way the air felt. The way the light looked. The sheer absolute beauty of the Corona which is always there, shimmering but overwhelmed by the Sun’s power.

I know why people chase these.

I want to experience it again too.

And I’m glad I was in a small group on a mountain top where we didn’t get innundated by screaming and instead spent the time pointing out things in the surrounding landscape. I’ll have more about the camping trip in Cascade, Idaho later on in another post but the Eclipse itself deserves to stand alone.

On photography

I didn’t plan to photograph this. Yes, I brought a camera like I always do and packed a my most-compact telephoto* “just in case” but my goal wasn’t to take a photo but rather just experience those two minutes. The photo I do have is very much a grab shot—believe it or not the exposure settings I used were the same settings I was using for candid people shots in the near-total light.

*an old, fully-manual 200m f/4 Nikkor AIS

That it’s pretty much indistinguishable from any other eclipse photo doesn’t bother me at all. Nor does the fact that there’s no way this image can come close to the totality experience. It’s a record of what I saw. And sometimes that’s all a photo needs to be.

I did however plan on taking photos during the partial eclipse. Lots of fun things to play with there. People looking silly in their eclipse glasses. The cool crescent shapes and weird shadows. That odd dusky light which confuses our eyes into trying to decide whether we’re wearing sunglasses or if it’s getting close to time to go to bed.



One of the few hikes we did complete from Packer Lake. Way, way more water compared to my previous visit, we couldn’t even walk around the lake this time and had to stop and eat right where the trail reached the shore.


Good 70s

Mike Mandel, Untitled, from the series Mrs. Kilpatric, 1974

from the series Mrs. Kilpatric, 1974

Mike Mandel, Seven Never Before Published Portraits of Edward Weston

Seven Never Before Published Portraits of Edward Weston

Mike Mandel, Untitled, from the portfolio People in Cars, 1972

from the portfolio People in Cars, 1972

Mike Mandel, Untitled, from the series, Myself: Timed Exposures, 1971

from the series, Myself: Timed Exposures, 1971

I was sad to miss the Larry Sultan show but I’m very glad I made it up to SFMOMA for the Mike Mandel show. Sometimes it’s nice to just see things that are fun and make me smile.

This isn’t to say that Mandel’s work is somehow simple or trivial, just that the concepts are both remarkable easy to grasp and Mandel’s default approach mines the humor. It’s a goofy humor which I really love and, despite being funny, manages to maintain a certain seriousness and empathy for the subjects. I’m not laughing at the photos or the people in them, I’m laughing because of them and what they make me recognize. This is an approach which is sadly lacking in a lot of photography.

Seven Never Before Published Portraits of Edward Weston is a perfect example of this. It could easily be seen as a stunt. Or something making fun of Edward Weston—or all these other Edward Westons. But it avoids those pitfalls and becomes so much more. It touches on how everyone takes and consumes photography—each of the Edward Westons supplies a portrait and talks about photography. It touches on the nature of fame and what it’s like to have a name in common with someone famous. It provides a sympathetic glimpse into seven men’s lives. Seven men whose only thing in common is that they share the same name as a famous photographer and were generous enough to share about their lives to a complete stranger.

It’s also hilarious. Not because of who those men are what their responses are but because there’s simultaneously an everyman, what if I shared my name with someone famous, thing going on plus the sly suggestion that maybe each of these guys is actually the Edward Weston. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face when I read each of these and looked at the photos.

Mrs Kilpatric is also fun. So simple that in many ways it’s just about goofing around with a friend and neighbor. But the unposed—well, semi-posed—unplanned nature of it all is completely disarming. She’s incredibly trusting of Mandel to let him take her photo no matter what she’s doing or wearing. But the photos are great. They’re the kind of photos that she might not like because they’re a bit silly but which her family members will love because of how they portray her.

People in Cars is a similarly straitforward project.  One of the things which stands out looking at Mandel’s work is how visible he must’ve made himself as a photographer. Even a series like this which lends itself to surreptitious shooting is very clearly full of interaction. Most of them are people being amused by whatever Mandel is doing when he’s behind the camera. Which makes the few where the subject is upset really stand out in a way which produces a wry smile from me.

Myself meanwhile had me laughing in the gallery. I love the Half Dome one (of course there’s a Half Dome one) but they’re all great. Mandel is indeed a goofball. The idea of photobombing his own photos is hilarious. As is the way that the other people in the frame end up having to react to him. Sometimes there’s surprise, other times there’s group acceptance, and sometimes he’s ignored. But you know that everyone in the frame has watched him set up the tripod and camera and is now trying to figure out what the hell this skinny kid with long hair is doing standing with them while the camera is buzzing.

You can hear the camera buzzing.

There’s confusion. There’s joy. There’s curiosity. There’s all the things that we all do when confronted with a camera. But Mandel is in the frame along with the “subjects” adding an extra layer of bizarreness and humor. It’s fantastic.

Mike Mandel, Skyway

Looking at how Mandel interacts with the people he’s photographing brings me to his photos of The Boardwalk.*  Having just been at Pier 24 earlier that day I couldn’t help comparing Mandel’s photos to Winogrand’s. Mandel isn’t creepy even though many of his subjects are Winogrand-bait. It’s not just that he’s made eye contact or something before taking the photo, there’s a level of interaction which gets a flirting versus a death stare.

*The first time I’ve seen an extensive series about a place which I’m super-attached to as home. My kids love going every summer. Just seeing what it looks like in the 70s and how much has, or hasn’t, changed is wonderful from a purely documentary point of view.

And yes, a lot of this might be 1960s New York versus 1970s California. But Mandel was a skinny goofball kid and Winogrand was a larger more serious presence. And it certainly seems like their approaches were also quite different—especially in that Mandel appears to be having fun with his photography. It doesn’t feel like an obsession or quest but instead just messing around and playing with the camera.

Mike Mandel, Untitled, from the series SF Giants, an Oral History, 1978–1979

from the series SF Giants, an Oral History, 1978–1979

Mike Mandel, Untitled, from the series Prelude to Making Good Time, 1979

from the series Prelude to Making Good Time, 1979

Which brings us to Mandel’s baseball photos. I had a hard time viewing these as a photographer since I was a Giants fan first and those instincts are much more deep-seated than any of my art appreciation instincts. But they’re great. I’d love to spend a lot more time with SF Giants, an Oral History—it’s a shame this isn’t part of the catalog—but just looking at the photos is plenty enjoyable.

Mandel again both includes himself in the frame and manages to create an interaction where players are encouraged to be silly rather than serious. The resulting images feel like insider snapshots more than anything else. Part of me wonders whether this approach would’ve worked on a better team—mid 70s to mid 80s Giants were not so good—and part of me feels like he only took photos of the players who were cool with him anyway.

In any case, even with everyone having access to social media, Mandel’s photos manage to capture a view which we still don’t usually see.

And his light painting images caught me by surprise. This is one of those gimmicks which has been beat to death as self-indulgent Flickr explore bait. Mandel‘s images though show that he understands the game. Rather than being a gimmick they illuminate key action traces like how and when a batter twists his wrist during a swing or a pitcher’s hands come apart during his windup. It’s motion capture which highlights important details in the motion.

Mike Mandel, Baseball-Photographer Trading Cards, 1975

Mike Mandel, Baseball-Photographer Trading Cards, 1975 Mike Mandel, Baseball-Photographer Trading Cards, 1975

Which brings me to the Photographer Baseball Cards. Aside from Evidence, these are what I knew best about Mandel. I’ve always loved this project but had never really had a chance to look at a complete set before. So many wonderful things going on with these just as photographs without even getting into the baseball card aspect.

I love that his range of subjects runs from Ansel Adams to Bunny Yeager.* We’ve got star photographers who everyone knows, photographers’ photographers who aren’t appreciated as much as they should be, and photographers who’ve kind of been forgotten now. It’s very much a proper baseball card set in this way.

*Though women are still outnumbered like four to one and the non-white photographers can be counted on one hand. As always, lists are a bad idea.

I love that we get to see what the photographers look like. That Lewis Baltz is called “Duke.” That John Divola’s card features him in blurred motion. Divola’s card is the best in the entire set in terms of capturing a sense of what Divola was interested in as a photographer—pushing the boundaries of the concept of what a photograph depicts, or should depict in terms of time or reality— while also being “baseball” in terms of its pose and language.

I love the way that these are mass-produced offset lithography. Photography, especially art photography, is almost always obsessed with process and image quality. Even in  a book we get duotones or quadtones and insanely fine line screens and every attempt to make them look like “real” photographic prints. But these are printed by Topps. The line screen is coarse. The cuts are common. The ink is black only. And that’s not only appropriate but any other option would be just wrong.

I love the way that everyone seems to know what baseball and baseball cards are. You can see this especially in the contact sheets where each subject plays with different tropes of baseball posing. There’s a common language both in terms of baseball and baseball cards that we all know. But of course we should know, we’ve been making and consuming these photos since the 19th century.

I also appreciate that SFMOMA dedicated two rooms to showing samplings from many of the depicted photographers. This is helpful as both a reminder to people like me who recognized names but momentarily blanked on what they photographed* and an explanation for people who may have questioned whether the subjects of the cards were photographers at all.

*Nathan Lyons, Art Sinsabaugh, and Judy Dater in this case for me.

Sometimes though the photograph selected by SFMOMA felt like the wrong choice. This sampling isn’t the time to go on a deep dive into a photographer’s work but rather an “explain this person in an image or two.” So yes, I was mightily confused why they selected an black and white Eggleston image to display for him.

All in all though, a great show. I knew who Mandel was when I walked in. I just wasn’t aware about how much I liked his work. Also, while I still have concerns about SFMOMA’s new direction turning away from local art and artists—especially given the general sense of its upcoming exhibitions being much more FAMSF rather than what I’ve gotten used to at SFMOMA—I have to give them props for putting on a show which couldn’t possibly be more local.

Packer Lake


It’s good to be back. Last time I was here was three years ago. Not as much hiking this year—too much snow and too much water—so we spent a lot more time around and in the lake itself.DSC_0180