Everything isn’t ray tracing

Seeing what you believe

Robert Dow

San Francisco used to have a huge U.S. Army and Navy presence going back to 1797. It was a berthing, repair, and resupply station during WWII and after the Korean war in 1962, the U.S. Army left. And after the army pulled out of San Francisco, they left a horde of buildings right on the edge of the San Francisco Bay, at Fort Mason, choice real estate with stunning views of the Golden Gate bridge and other picturesque landmarks. Various proposals were put forth to build striking office buildings and apartments on that land but for various reasons were never realized and instead what happened was the old WWII buildings got a fresh paint job, earthquake reinforcement and dozens of tenants with small restaurants, galleries, and cute shops. Blessed with a giant parking lot, and easy to get in and out of, Fort Mason has become a very hip destination, mostly for us locals, but tourists trip over it too.

One of the occupants is Gallery 308 in the Landmark building, just a few doors away from the Interval bar and home of the Long Now Foundation, developers of the 10,000-year clock.

Last weekend, Gallery 308 held the Superfine! art fair, and jammed a showing of over 60 local and global contemporary artists into its 2,052 square feet of space. It was fabulous, to say the least, and overwhelming. A barrage of images in a room that was magnificently illuminated mostly by natural light. The paintings and sculptures seemed to glow.

On the negative side, the exhibit space was tight and the effect of all the work together in a small space was overwhelming.

It’s impossible for an average person to pick out the best, probably difficult for experts. There were some stand out examples to be sure, but everyone has a different taste in art. And everyone comes to such events with history, experience, a modicum of talent maybe, and some bias. To the man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

And so I saw ray tracing.

When I saw Kazu Umeki’s images I immediately questioned him about the light sources, materials library, and which programs he used. It took him a few seconds to translate the alien language I was speaking before his partner, Max Blechman laughingly interceded and said, “It’s a photograph.”

If it looks real that’s because it is


Max and Kazu collect small porcelain vases, bunnies, cats, dogs, and other interesting objects. They must have a couple thousand of them. One of them came up with the idea of photographing a few—after all, their company, Blechmeki, is a fine art photography house in San Francisco.

The effect was stunning. It jumps out at you, or at least at me. I kept going back to it before I asked about their technique. I had my hammer and I wanted this to be a nail damn it, a ray-tracing nail. I thought I had found the next teapot.

A former U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Potter Stewart, is famous for saying, “I know it when I see it.”  I know ray tracing when I see it. Do I? Evidently not.