The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for September 12th, 2022

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is a former power plant, found alongside the Glenwood stop of the modern day Metro North rail service, in Yonkers – the first City that you’ll encounter when heading north out of NYC. The plant was built in 1907, when the NY Central Railroad was electrifying its system both in and into Manhattan. My pal Val had arranged for a small group of photographers to enjoy guided access to the site for a couple of hours. This building was abandoned in the early 1970’s, and has sat feral for the last fifty years or so.

This is an extremely well documented site, one which has been drawing in the “urban explorer” crowd for literally generations. Here’s a 2021 article from “Yonkers Times” discussing its current status, a Wikipedia page for “just the facts,” a 2014 NY Times report is here, and the views and plans of the current owners of the property can be examined at their website.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As a note, my methodology for this sort of excursion is often thwarted as you just have to make the best of being on what’s essentially a walking tour. There were several other people shooting at the same time, which adds challenges as you need to dodge their POV’s, and the occasional accidental swing of a tripod leg or something.

People…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are two main structures on the site, one is the building where the generator and battery rooms were housed, the other is where the coal furnaces and the boilers were located.

Our guide confirmed to me that the terra-cotta adorning the entryway into the generator building was – indeed – the product of the New York TerraCotta Works in Long Island City. Check out that old timey NY Central logo on the door lintel’s cornice piece.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The generator room is pictured above, and as you’d imagine – those graffiti covered machines soon became a focus point for every lens in the room. I’ve looked around a bit since getting back from this trip, and it’s appears to me that every photographer with an interest in post industrial ruination has accomplished something very similar to the shot and composition I took above.

Methodology wise, I like to be able to learn a bit about a site. The photos in today and tomorrow’s posts are essentially scouting. I’d like to be in here at night with an extremely diffuse set of light sources. I’d also want to be inside this room in the extremely early morning AND at dusk. Dusk and heavy fog… hey now!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily, methodology wise, I’ve got a whole bag of tricks learned over the last fifteen years, along that shining ribbon of municipal neglect that provides a 3.8 miles long and currently undefended border for Brooklyn and Queens – the fabulous Newtown Creek.

My plan for these photos – which involved a one time opportunity at the subject – was to go “low and slow.” Unfortunately, neither time of day nor atmospheric humidity were on my side. An uncomfortably humid day would have created an absolutely visible miasma, but this was the day after a heat wave broke and it was unusually dry as a result.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

By “low and slow” I mean that the camera was on a tripod and seldom placed any higher than waste level. I affixed an ND filter to one of my zoom lenses, and either treated the image like a “night shot” with high ISO and longish shutter speed, or went full landscape mode with a 30 second long shot. I did some “exposure stacking” for a couple of these, most successfully in the shot directly above this one. That’s three exposures, each metered for and focused onto a different part of the image. In Photoshop, you can “blend” the three images together automatically.

Like a lot of things “digital,” once you conceptualize what’s actually happening when you tell an application to do something, the process can then be taken advantage of and guided. In the case of focus and or exposure stacking, it can get pretty exciting – results wise – if it’s subtle enough.


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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 blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 12, 2022 at 11:00 am

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