The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Sunnyside Yards’ Category

public building

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Sunnyside Yard, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Everybody always asks me how I get these shots, or about certain qualities in them. Simple answer is that I’m always experimenting with the camera, and when I come up with some protocol for “how to get this or that” my next move is usually to reverse it and see what happens.

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, my friend, practice.

The setting: Recently, an evening meeting carried one up the hill from the elluvial flatlands of Southern Astoria to the heights of the ridge which Sunnyside was built into. Between these two neighborhoods, there’s a former tidal swamp into which the Sunnyside Yard was embedded back in the first decade of the 20th century. Once the largest rail coach yard on earth, the Yard still hosts the busiest rail junction found on the continent, the so called Harold Interlocking. The busy part is due to the frequent passage of Long Island Railroad commuter rail trains, which share the switches and rails with Amtrak.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The conditions: Sunset to the west, which I was going to be shooting right into. The weather was humid, and a bit misty. The point of view is surrounded by steel plated chain link fencing whose purpose is to deny observation of vulnerable infrastructure (I’m told that this fencing was installed during the first decade of the Terror Wars). One such as myself has a vast catalog of fence holes and gaps which are dearly held, and since my meeting in Sunnyside would carry one past an entire series of these occluded viewpoints, a point was made to pocket one of my lenses small enough to fit into while leaving HQ. I also brought some chewing gum, but that’s not important.

My “good lenses,” which are used in particularly high rotation, have a circumference too large for these cracks in the walls around the Sunnyside Yard – so a “decent” lens which has a decidedly smaller diameter was employed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The “decent lens” mentioned is the so called “nifty fifty” offered by Canon. It’s far and away my most inexpensive tool, and allows wide open apertures which would make it handy for night time shots but for its persnickety focusing mechanics. The term for what it does, autofocus wise, is called “hunting.” What that means is that it noisily rolls through the range of focus and never quite settles itself into a lock. My usual habit with this sort of thing is to use autofocus to “get it close” and then switch the thing over to manual focus for final adjustment.

The optic formula of the lens also renders things a bit less “contrasty” than I’d like, but you can’t really complain about camera equipment which retails for around a hundred bucks – especially when it fits through fence holes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The methodology: For those of you not in the know, as to how cameras and lenses work – a “bright lens” will allow you to operate it at wide apertures (f1.8 in the instance of the nifty fifty). Wide apertures create a tremendous “depth of field” effect, which means that the area which is in focus will appear sharply delineated and everything else will be blurred. Higher aperture settings – the “f-stops” as it were – will create a hyperfocal range in which everything in frame will be sharply defined. The lower the “f-stop” the more light enters the camera, and the higher ones allow less light to get to the sensor. You balance the shot using shutter speed and ISO settings. Night shots and interior spaces require you to use the lens “wide open,” with slow shutter speeds, and higher ISO settings – all of which introduce certain quality issues to the captured image.

The shots in today’s post were consciously captured with the desire to have “everything” in focus, with a minimum of motion blur as well, and to record a full range of color and tone. Difficult to do with the sun behind the scene, and in a setting where everything is made of contrasting reflective surfaces.

My formula was to actually reverse my night shooting protocol on 2/3rds of the exposure triangle, using a very narrow f-stop and fairly fast shutter speed, but with a high ISO setting for tone and color sensitivity (f10, 1/1250th of a second, ISO 800). Sometimes, particularly during the summer, the problem isn’t that there enough light – there’s actually too much of it and some methodology needs to be employed to control it. Experimentation and failure often emanate from screwing around with your normal shooting habits, but sometimes it pays to mix things up a bit.

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Upcoming Tours –

July 12th, 2015
Glittering Realms Walking Tour
with Newtown Creek Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

unmistakeable facades

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Announcing a new walking tour, the Skillman Corridor.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Obscura Day is Atlas Obscura’s global outing, and this year I’m going to be offering a new walking tour that has been in the works for awhile now – The Skillman Avenue Corridor. This will explore the southern border of the Sunnyside Yards, descending from the heights of Sunnyside to the flood plain of the Newtown Creek’s tributary Dutch Kills.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As long time readers of this, your Newtown Pentacle, know – Skillman Avenue is one of my “happy hunting grounds” for photographic pursuits. Those of you who share the same obsessions with infrastructure and photography thereof that possess me will find this an immensely satisfying experience. Along the way, the history of Sunnyside Yards and the industrial giants which surround it will be explored.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We will also be visiting Dutch Kills next weekend with Atlas Obscura (May 16, see the link below), on the 13 steps tour, which was actually premiered on Obscura Day several years ago. The Skillman Corridor is the first of several new tours which I’m conjuring up that aren’t directly “Newtown Creek” oriented which will occur in LIC, btw.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

May 16, 2015 –
13 Steps Around Dutch Kills with Atlas Obscura

with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for details and tickets.

May 30, 2015 –
The Skillman Corridor with Atlas Obscura

with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for details and tickets.

May 31, 2015 –
Newtown Creek Boat Tour
with Working Harbor Committee and Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for tickets.

A Short History of the Sunnyside Yards

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A little video action for you, in today’s post.

– photos by Mitch Waxman

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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 18, 2015 at 11:00 am

maniacal force

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A short one today

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Long Island Railroad, transiting Sunnyside Yard A just before sunset yesterday. A dollar short and a day late, I’ll be back tomorrow with something a bit more substantial.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 12, 2015 at 12:11 pm

inferior body

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Friday’s all right.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sorry for today’s late update, a humble narrator was too busy crying in his coffee to get it done on time, what with the hubris and ennui and all that. Pictured above is the endangered sight of railroad traffic at the Sunnyside Yard, as seen from Skillman Avenue. That’s an AMTRAK train, for those of you interested in such things, with the continuing construction of the East Side Access project underway just behind it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over on Northern Blvd., these Christmas trees await the buyers who will watch them finish the dying process that began when they were cut away from their roots. Having grown up Jewish, this is one of the “goyem” things I’ve never really understood. You people kill millions of trees every year because… Christmas? Next month, these will be the Astoria tumbleweeds.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A borderland between two distinct sections of Queens, the automotive city and the locomotive one, is found at the cross of Queens Blvd. and Roosevelt Avenue. I’ve always loved this spot, despite it being one of the most confusing and dangerous pedestrian intersections in the borough.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 12, 2014 at 1:14 pm

been traversing

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I hate Mondays.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The short intervals of time when torrential rain was not falling in the last week have been quite productive for a humble narrator, as my post vacation energy levels have remained rather high. Unfortunately, the aforementioned inclement weather has been a bit of a drag. Saturday found me out and about, and by the time that a return to HQ was accomplished both my filthy black raincoat and camera bag had become thoroughly saturated with precipitants. A short visit to my beloved Newtown Creek confirmed that the CSO’s (combined sewer outfalls) had been barking into the waterway. E’au de Creek, indeed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another brief moment between the storms found me on Broadway, here in almond eyed Astoria. A fellow decided that he could beat a Skaggs Walsh oil truck to the corner, both were attempting to turn right, when he discovered that his calculations of velocity and mass were skewed. The oil truck was unscathed, as it is literally and figuratively a tank. The fellow in the car, however, required the services of a tow truck and body shop after the encounter. Another “accidental.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over at my Brownstoner column, the latest attempt to deck over the Sunnyside Yards is discussed in a post called “NIMBY.” For all of us who live here in Queens, the renewed interest in decking over the yards by the elites of Manhattan is a shot across the bow. The development plans currently approved and underway – Hunters Point South, Flushing Common, Astoria Point, Hallets Cove – will be bringing us close to 40,000 new neighbors in the next decade. Decking over the Yards to allow Manhattan its long desired jettisoning of the Javitz Center from midtown, and exporting it to Queens just stinks. Another example of an ugly something that the City people don’t want which they want to stick Queens with, just like their garbage. If at all possible, please click through to the NIMBY post and share it to your twitter and or Facebook accounts, as we Queensicans need to get mobilized on this topic.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 8, 2014 at 11:48 am

fled unknowingly

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Break time.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A single image greets you this morning, as will be the case through the Thanksgiving holiday.

A humble narrator requires a break periodically, to recharge and reinvent. Worry not, however, for pithy commentary and puckish intent returns on the Monday following Thanksgiving – the first of December.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 18, 2014 at 11:00 am

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