The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for February 9th, 2018

avoided acquaintenances

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Taking chances, with the Vampires of Queens Plaza.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in past postings, the “thing” which I’m currently into is taking photos at night. On Tuesday last, one attended a meeting of the estimable Hunters Point Civic group in LIC, and joined with some friends for a few drinks afterwards. A humble narrator had brought along a tripod and a few other pieces of required gear for low light and long exposure work, and after bidding adieu to the lords and ladies of Tower Town headed off in the general direction of Astoria.

It was well after midnight, which is the interval during which the vampires known to inhabit the overhead steel rafters of the elevated subways and bridge off ramps of the Court Square and Queens Plaza zones are off making their nightly attempt on the Blood Center over on Vernon, so I liked my odds of not being exsanguinated.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These sort of shots sound a lot simpler to produce than they actually are. The biggest issue one encounters in this sort of pursuit has nothing to do with the photography angle, actually, it’s the management and “carry” of all the various bits and bobs. The lens I use for this sort of shot is inappropriate for general low light usage, so first there’s a changing of the glass. The tripod I have is pretty manageable, but is still a heavy and clumsy thing that needs to be unfolded and deployed. There’s also a wired cable release that needs to be attached to the camera, which can be quite “fumbly.”

You also have to factor in the fact that – for some of the people inhabiting Queens – spotting somebody carrying a camera around seems to have the same effect on them as witnessing somebody carrying an assault rifle. As a note, in at least one instance, the street pictured above is the cinematic setting in which Bruce Wayne’s parents were shot and killed, giving birth to the Batman of Gotham.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For years, one has been working on whittling down the “night kit.” I’ve got two versions of it which I carry, one which is designed around handheld and high ISO shots. That involves so called “bright lenses” which have wide apertures. The vast majority of night shots I produce use this particular toolkit, but the image quality in those shots is degraded due to the noise and grain inherent to the approach. Saying that, if I want to “freeze” motion, that’s the way to go.

The shots in today’s post were produced using a “dark lens” (and the forementioned tripod) which was set to fairly narrow apertures and the lowest ISO settings which my device offers. The exposures are in the 20-30 second range, with field adjustments for lighting temperature and other factors dialed in on a case by case basis.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the things I like about the long exposure stuff is the way that it captures a longer interval of time than the traditional fractional slivers of reality afforded by daylight. When the exposure is 1/1000th of a second, you can freeze the motion of a bird’s wing or capture the dripping of water. You also run into a portraiture problem, however, and need to be concerned with the capture of “micro expressions.” Shoot at a fast shutter speed and you’ll soon learn that people don’t necessarily blink their eyes in tandem and often make odd shapes with their mouths when speaking.

Long exposure work smooths all that out, but also introduces its own set of quirks.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The red and white streaks, even the ghostly afterimage of the automobile at the right hand side of the shot above, are typical of the pursuit. For the thirty seconds or so that the cameras shutter was open, vehicles and all sorts of moving objects pass in front of the lens, leaving behind spectral trails. Those thirty seconds are also hellacious for the humble narrator standing behind the setup, as a note, as he twists his neck around constantly scanning for approaching threats.

You’ve got all of these angry drivers whizzing around, vampires stalking from above, and drunken humans stumbling about staring at their little rectangles of glowing glass.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“Like the sea, Queens is eternal and we are just the latest people passing through it” or “all is transitory,” you can ascribe whatever high falutin artsy fartsy phraseology to the shots in today’s post that you’d like to for all I care. In a gallery space you’d need to talk “art,” which usually means the usage of that sort of language. To me, everything is just a challenge.

This section of Jackson Avenue, leading out of Queens Plaza towards the transmogrification point where it becomes Northern Blvd. is the worst part of the Vampire infestation, as a note. You want to be very careful around this darkest section of the “Carridor,” lest you be snatched up and inculcated into the pallid horde.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One thing that I’d mention are the bits of gear which haven’t been described. It was literally freezing, temperature wise, when these shots were captured, and it was well after midnight. One was insulated in the normal fashion with a hooded fleece sweatshirt, buttoned up filthy black raincoat, and gloves. Even with these precautions, it was freaking cold. Luckily, my tripod has a couple of foam grips on it, but handling it drained the blood from my fingers on every setup.

Given the vast physical repulsion people generally manifest in response to me, I wasn’t carrying a rape whistle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 9, 2018 at 1:00 pm

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