The Newtown Pentacle

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frenzied letter

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My beloved Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An interesting thing about night time tripod based photos, which take fairly long intervals to capture, is that you become quite familiar with traffic patterns on area bridges. One was out fairly late on a Sunday night recently, shooting from the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, and attempting to execute the shot above in between traffic light signal rotations. Finding a twenty five second interval, even forty minutes after midnight on a Sunday night, in which a heavy truck or MTA Bus is not crossing the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge and causing it to shake, vibrate, or heave… is a challenge.

There were about six shots on my camera card previous to the one above which were ruined by the sudden appearance of a speeding garbage truck, bus, or oil delivery semi and their somewhat seismic effect on the bridge. Such is life, I suppose.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Things were a bit quieter back on Greenpoint’s Apollo Street, the titular epicenter and official discovery point of the Greenpoint Oil Spill. Once upon a time, this was the dividing point between two of Standard Oil’s refinery facilities (both of which later became a part of Mobil), but today it’s just a wasted little street end defined by a former BP Amoco and now Kinder Morgan petroleum distribution tank farm. The eastern side of the street is owned by the Manhattan/Empire Beverage Distribution company, a warehouse based operation that accomplishes the holy task of stocking NYC’s bars and liquor stores with product.

I’ve never met the Empire Beverage people, but I’d personally like to thank them for facilitating my life long love of degeneracy and for several besotted episodes of happiness that have punctuated my otherwise miserable existence.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Funnily enough, at night, the sections of the Newtown Creek industrial zone where you’d expect things to be buzzing 24 hours a day are rather quite peaceful. It’s basically you and hundreds of feral kitties back here. There are weird moving shadows you’ll spot out of the corner of your eye snaking along the rooftops, which are often accompanied by a chittering sound that I do not like, but the less said about that the better.

There are some things you do not want to say too much, or know anything about, quite frankly.


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Arrrrgh!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator has been chasing a shot for quite a bit of time now, one which has eluded me with all the skill of a Bigfoot. I’ve gotten high in LIC looking for it, spent a lot of shoe leather wandering around Newtown Creek in a safety vest at night, and have even spent time in the Shining City during the quest. Frustrating is this particular pursuit, as although I’ve captured some nice imagery, “the shot” still remains elusive.

Above, looking eastwards from Manhattan at the notorious Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s a matter of perspective, you see. I need to attain some altitude in order to get the right POV, a high rooftop or windowed enclosure in the east 20’s of Manhattan which will allow me to capture the Newtown Creek in some detail and provide a 3/4 down view of the waterway. Empire State Building would be perfect, but there’s all sorts of rules involved with shooting from up there (at night) which negate  that possibility. They ban the use of camera supports like tripods or stands up on the observation decks (which is reasonable, I suppose), but unfortunate for the shot I need to pull off would involve all sorts of “kit.”

I’ve asked everyone I know if they know anyone at the Empire State Building, which has received a consistently negative reply. I’m sure I can talk the ESB people into letting me have literally ten minutes up there with my setup if I had the chance, but…

Arrggggghhhh!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I will, somehow, get that shot.

Seriously, this is getting ridiculous. So, again, I’m putting out a clarion cry… If you are reading this and have access to a high vantage point on the extreme east side of Manhattan anywhere between 14th and 34th street (preferrably around 23rd street) and would be willing to let me roll by with camera and tripod on a clear night – I will be in your way for a maximum of fifteen minutes. Contact me at newtownpentacle@yahoo.com if so.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 11, 2018 at 11:00 am

disordered nerves

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Moonscape, Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the larger properties found along the Newtown Creek is the National Grid site. It’s a bit of black box, Nat Grid, and appropriately a high security “Marsec 1” zone. Marsec 1 is the same security level as the runway of an airport or the bulkheads at a cargo port, and that means a lot of paranoia on the part of those employed in the business of keeping the place secure. The street facing sections of Nat Grid are designed to look like a military base with double layers of fencing topped with razor wire and an obvious series of security cameras pointed at them. There’s also guards patrolling the area.

All of this is actually a good thing, as those two white tanks you see above are cryogenic storage units for “LNG” or Liquefied Natural Gas. In the past I’ve indicated that were these things to explode, it would take half of Brooklyn and Queens with them, but the Nat Grid folks have since told me that’s impossible. Were a rupture to occur, they say, it would near instantaneously freeze the surrounding air due to the extreme cold temperatures of the LNG inside and seal the breech. I don’t argue with engineers, as that’s usually an argument you will lose.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Lombardy Street is another one of those byways in the Creeklands which is entirely contained by them, and “cul de sac’d.” It starts at Kingsland Avenue a few blocks to the south, and terminates at the water’s edge of Newtown Creek. For most of its course, it defines the western border of Nat Grid’s property line.

The Nat Grid property was originally owned by Brooklyn Union Gas, a corporate entity formed in 1825 which consolidated the gas lines of the City of Brooklyn and parts of Queens under single ownership by 1895. By 1910, BUG was operating something like 2,100 miles of metered pipe and manufacturing the gas they sold at a smallish property along the Gowanus Canal in South Brooklyn. By 1928, BUG was pumping some 22 billion cubic feet of gas through their network. They needed to expand their operations, and their source of supply, so in 1929 the Gowanus plant was shuttered and they relocated their facilities to a new 115 square acre property along Newtown Creek in Greenpoint.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The BUG people built a manufactured gas plant here, which burned fuel in low oxygen furnaces called “retorts” designed to encourage the fuels to smolder rather than combust. The gases released by the retort were then separated chemically, in pursuit of the manufacture of Methane or “Natural Gas.” There were all sorts of corollary chemical compounds, some commercially desirable, that were released from the fuel. A lot of waste came along with it as well; coal tar, ammoniacal liquors, arsenic compounds. Manufacturing gas can get messy.

BUG called this site the Vandervoort Street facility, and it was designed to manufacture 200 million cubic feet of gas a day. Through corporate mergers and stock market acquisitions, BUG ended up becoming a part of the Keyspan Company, which itself was acquired by National Grid at the start of the 21st century.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Lombardy Street in eastern Greenpoint/Western Bushwick (depends how you define the areas, by whom, and when) is less than friendly to the itinerant pedestrian under the best circumstances. It’s a heavy trucking backwater, used to avoid getting hung up in traffic on nearby Meeker Avenue. The street itself is an atrocity, missing sidewalks distinguish most of its length, and the vehicle lanes which you’re forced to walk on are so chewed up that it would be quite an easy thing to snap an ankle while scuttling along it.

That’s something I can personally attest to, incidentally. Came within an inch of cracking a bone one day a couple of summers ago on Lombardy. If I wasn’t wearing my trusty Merell hiking shoe which offer ankle support…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a gas flare tower at the National Grid site which always draws my attention.

It makes a loud hissing whistle sound (hisstle?) that always pulls me to it, and then there flames… so…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve been on the Nat Grid site just once, when the company’s PR representatives consented to my multiple requests to “get me smart” about their operations. Unfortunately the visit took place in an office building way on the other side of the site and involved a slide show presentation about their clean up operations for the place.

It seems the BUG people left behind quite the mess, which is why National Grid is one of the “Potentially Responsible Parties” named by the EPA as being culpable for the Newtown Creek Superfund site.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 6, 2018 at 2:00 pm

asked solicitously

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The purple midnight sun of Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Y’know, when Governor Cuomo (or Amazon Andy, as the children of Queens now refer to the Dark Prince of Albany) announced that the new Kosciuszcko Bridge over Newtown Creek was going to receive a spiffy lighting package which would be a part of his “Harbor of Lights” concept, a humble narrator experienced misgivings. Here we are a year or so later, and during that interval I’ve described the K bridge as resembling either a modern day Greek Coffee shop here in Astoria or a Flushing massage parlor’s “Come in, were open” signage on more than one occasion. Commentary has also been offered that the light beams of this installation carry quite high into the air, and on cloudy or foggy nights the luminance from them is visible even from HQ in Astoria – which is some two and change miles away. The bridge people have told me that the LED lighting display is shut off at midnight, but wow are these things bright, and garishly colored.

It’s a purple world, after dark in DUKBO, except in the areas directly surrounding the ongoing work site. There you’ve got bright white stadium lighting staring down at the pavement from on high.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ok, usage of the word “unnatural” is a given in any of the neighborhoods surrounding Newtown Creek, especially the industrial zones of eastern Greenpoint or Maspeth, so it’s a given. At night, it’s pretty much just you and the hundreds of feral cats who populate the shadows around these parts. There was a black cat with blue eyes in the rear wheel socket of the truck in the shot above, but you need to see the shot at full resolution and zoomed all the way in to see the eye shine and hazy outline of the critter. Click through to Flickr and zoom all the way in, if you dare. It’s the corner of Lombardy and Varick, pictured above.

Check out that glowing purple sky! Is it Raganarok, Gö́tterdämmerung, or the long prophecied Endtimes? Can you hear the piper and the drummer?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Nope, it’s just the Kosciuszcko Bridge.

When they’re done with the second phase of the project in 2020, which I’m actually pretty stoked for, the plan includes the installation of an additional LED lighting setup on that half of it. Phase 2, as it were, is pretty far along. It’s a second, more or less identical bridge, which will differ from the already open eastern one due to the addition of a bike and pedestrian pathway. If the purple radiation which stains the clouds, as seen above, is doubled…

One shrinks from answers to what that ultra concentration of violet might reveal.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 5, 2018 at 11:00 am

queerly disturbed

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Ahhh…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An interminable period, that’s how one would describe the rain situation last weekend, one which got in the way of pointing the camera at cool things at night. Most of Sunday was spent in careful observation of the outside environment and the monitoring of predictive meteorology information. A window was going to emerge on Sunday night where there would be fog but no rain, and a humble narrator would be ready to fly into action when it arrived.

I didn’t really fly, instead I left HQ and hailed a cab. The driver was told a street address, to which he replied “Really?” After affirming my destination, we set off. My timing worked out perfectly, as it was still drizzling when I got into the two ton death machine cab, and steady precipitation had stopped.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Soon; I found myself scaring feral cats, avoiding a particularly slippery patch of mud, trying not to fall into any giant puddles, and in general having a grand old time at the Newtown Creek till well after midnight. It’s spooky in the creeklands at night, with all sorts of mystery sounds emanating from inky black shadow. There’s also the whole “by yourself with no one around for blocks and blocks physical vulnerability” thing. At least it wasn’t cold, and there weren’t any wolves or teenagers roaming about seeking victims. Really, the only interaction I had with anybody else involved exchanging convivial greetings with a couple of Indian guys waiting for their trucks to be loaded at a Korean food warehouse.

The shot above depicts the street end of Meeker Avenue in Greenpoint, which regularly floods.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This whole enviromental craze is particularly annoying during the summer, as all that foliage blocks my points of view and is constantly blowing around in the wind. Seasonally devastated plant life, all withered away to brittle sticks and twigs, is better. Often have I wished that I could power wash the shorelines of Newtown Creek with herbicides… it would be historically accurate… and I’d get a better shot if the Brooklyn Queens Expressway was framed by a nice lunar landscape littered with garbage. C’est la vie, huh?

While shooting this particular photo, I heard a noise behind me, and upon spinning about to analyze my surroundings a black cat suddenly jumped between the shadows. It was just like a horror movie.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 4, 2018 at 11:00 am

surged back

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Friday tugboat!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That brutally cold Friday the day after Thanksgiving? Actually, the Friday night after Thanksgiving? Yup, a humble narrator was clinging to a bulkhead in Greenpoint watching a Tug deliver an empty barge to SimsMetal and preparing to tow away a full one. There’s two different approaches to night shot photography in this post, incidentally.

The first and the last images are relatively wide aperture and high ISO shots with a shutter speed just fast enough to freeze the movement of the maritime industrial action. By “relatively wide,” I mean f4.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above is typical of the sort that you’ve been seeing a lot of lately at this – your Newtown Pentacle – narrow aperture and long(ish) exposure at a fairly low ISO setting. Anything that’s moving at all has a bit of motion blur, especially the tugboat, which has been reduced down to a series of light streaks.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One had made the trip to Greenpoint in pursuance of capturing an image of the moon rising over Newtown Creek, a shot which just didn’t end up working out for me in the end. Ultimately, I came home with a few “worthies” on my camera memory card, but nothing to write home about.

Tugboat!


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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 30, 2018 at 11:30 am

choking gasp

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Great Gallopping Golly Gosh Gee, it’s Wednesday again.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

High over Hunters Point in Long Island City, the POV looks southwards across the Long Island Railroad’s terminal passenger stop on the Lower Montauk line, various incarnations of which have been found here since 1870. In place even longer than the LIRR station, is the intersection of Newtown Creek with its parent waterway East River. Beyond is Greenpoint, which has been there for a good stretch, and that’s Manhattan on the right side of the shot which has also enjoyed a long occupancy hereabouts.

That’s the Williamsburg Bridge at center distant, which has been hanging out over the river since 1903. It’s an immigrant superhighway!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

September of 1954 is when the children of Brooklyn and Queens exploded into revelry over the opening of the Pulaski Bridge. One always refers to the area seen above as “DUPBO” or Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp, opining that “you need to get ahead of the Real Estate guys on this sort of thing or you’ll wind up living in “Westoria” or something.

The Pulaski Bridge is also an immigrant superhighway of sorts, connecting Queens’ Long Island City to Greenpoint in Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This shot looks northwards, where you can still spot the three major bridges of Western Queens all in one go by peeking over and around the residential towers of LIC. The Queensboro (1909), Hells Gate (1918), and Triborough Bridges (1936).

Tower Town, indeed.


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