The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

absurdly slight

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

One awoke at the appointed time, bathed, drank a coffee and headed over in the pre dawn hours to Pittsburgh’s Amtrak Station. The train was scheduled to depart at 7:30 a.m. and as is my habit – I was there an hour early. About 7:15, boarding began and the Amtrak conductor indicated which car they wanted me in.

It seems that the way they handle things on Amtrak is that they group passengers together according to where they’re going. Given that I was heading all the way to Moynihan/Penn Station in NYC, that meant I was in the last car on the train. One settled into a seat and got comfortable.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I wasn’t terribly well prepared – creature comforts wise – for the 8 hour trip, which meant that I was going to be getting my sustenance from Amtrak’s cafe car. They have pretty decent coffee, and a variety of high fat and sugar content offerings. Cakes and candies, juice and soda, even booze. Truth be told, the offerings reminded me a lot of the crap that I’d jam into my face hole back when I used to work overnight shifts in midtown Manhattan. I stuck with the coffee, mostly, but this time around instead of the Amtrak hamburger, I had the Amtrak hot dog. My advice? Go for the burger. It’s gross, but less so than the hot dog.

I spent my journey staring out the window again. This time, however, I used a piece of my homemade camera gear – a foam collar for my lens – to shoot random images out the window as the train ran along the tracks.

All of the shots gathered using this method have been given a different crop ratio than I normally use. It’s to distinguish them from properly composed photos, as these are basically “run and guns.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I sat in a weird posture with my torso twisted towards the window, the camera supported by the left arm while the right one worked the shutter. My head was turned in opposition to the torso, looking ahead in the direction the train was traveling. The camera had the foam collar on the lens, and the collar was pressed directly against the glass while avoiding having the actual lens make contact. When it looked like something interesting was coming up, I’d just start shooting. The exposures were something like 1/5,000th of a second, so as to freeze the scene at a fairly high ISO. Amtrak’s windows are generally pretty dirty, and colored with a reddish brown tint. This makes for a challenging environment when you’re developing them, back in the photoshop application at home.

Saying all that, I really enjoy the randomness, and getting the sort of views that you normally can’t reach.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Wish I could tell you about that power plant in the second shot, the canalized waterway in the third, or the bridge pictured above. Doing so would negate the point of the exercise, however, and add a meaningless layer of trivia into the effort.

These are shots, by the way, not photographs. The latter definition – at least by my way of thinking – indicates “photographs” as being something consciously composed and offered in a manner that makes a statement of some kind, whereas shots are entirely random and are more of a technical exercise than anything else.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Somewhere down the road, this particular technique will come in handy when I’m in a position where I have to get the shot or the photograph despite the situational challenges – which is why I engage in the exercise. All of my low light/night time shooting over the last few years has allowed me to develop a set of skills which allow me to leave the flash gun at home, even when I’m shooting indoors. Rail shots like these have taught me how to capture detail while shooting through a dirty rust brown colored window from a vehicle moving at 50 mph. That’ll come in handy, someday, somehow.

That’s the Altoona Horseshoe curve pictured above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We rolled through several rail yards on our course eastwards. Pictured above are Norfolk and Southern locomotives. I saw lots of rail, lots of dams and bridges, and lots of people who have festooned their homes with Trump flags. I saw one building, which seemed to be the offices of a trailer park, which had affixed a two story tall banner with Trump’s face silk screened on it facing the railway with the screed “miss me yet?”.

Nothing matters, nobody cares.

More next week, at this, your Newtown Pentacle.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 28, 2022 at 11:00 am

Posted in AMTRAK, railroad

Tagged with , ,

One Response

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  1. FYI (if you are not already aware): for a number of dazzling cab rides. (the link is to my current fave as the snow makes it almost surreal).


    January 28, 2022 at 11:47 am

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