The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Photowalk’ Category

plainly audible

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Back and forth, back and forth, it never ends.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Meeting season seems to be upon us all, wherein the various affiliations, causes, and organizations which I’m involved with want to get together in a room somewhere and discuss policy, plans, and or problems related to the issues of the day. Somehow this almost always involves me having to scuttle to Long Island City or Greenpoint at an inconvenient time, but it does allow for intervals on the journey to do a little shooting. Pictured above, a Long Island Railroad Mainline train set on its way from the City to points east, and crossing through the Sunnyside Yards.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Intrigued as I’ve been with long exposure shooting for the last several months, an endeavor which is usually carried out at night, whenever I’ve got a spot I can do a long exposure during daylight hours, I take it. That’s about two seconds of accumulated time from Queens Plaza in the shot above. I found a nicely positioned steel bracket which braces the construction scaffolding at one of the tower apartment construction sites on which to brace the camera, lock in the focus, and hold down the shutter button while watching the Fords roll by.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An even longer exposure from the other night on Kingsland Avenue in Greenpoint, alongside the Unnamed Canal sub tributary of the fabulous Newtown Creek. It depicts a somewhat abandoned Department of Sanitation Marine Transfer Station which sits on the shoreline street end of North Henry Street (whose north/south path is interrupted by the sewer plant). The fences were locked up about a year or so ago, and you used to be able to go in there and explore. I think they’re using it to warehouse “stuff” now, but can’t really say for sure. At the very least, they’ve fixed the lights inside the thing.


Upcoming Tours and Events

April 29 – Bushwick-Ridgewood borderline Walking Tour – with Newtown Historical Society.

Join Kevin Walsh and Mitch Waxman as they take us along the border of Brooklyn and Queens, Bushwick and Ridgewood, with stops at English Kills, an historic colonial Dutch home, and all kinds of fun and quirky locations. End with an optional dinner on Myrtle Avenue before heading back to the Myrtle-Wyckoff subway station. Tix are only $5 so reserve your space today!
Tickets and more details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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childish eyes

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Opposites can repulse or attract, no matter what Paula Abdul said.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Laboriously explained over the last few weeks of night shooting, the tripod technique one has been exploiting involves using small apertures, low ISO camera sensitivity, and long exposures to gather images. It’s rather the opposite of my normal shooting procedure. Out for a scuttle one recent afternoon, a humble narrator decided that since it was incredibly bright out he’d do the opposite of that normal procedure for daylight shots – wide open aperture photos with a shallow depth of field.

That’s the Harold Interlocking pictured above, at the Sunnyside Yards. A night shot from the same vantage point was offered in last Friday’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Given that I was pointing the camera into a scene full of reflective surfaces which the sun was setting behind, and the aperture was set to f1.8, I had to reduce sensor sensitivity down to ISO 100 and use a shutter speed of 1/8000th of a second to control the light. 1/8000th is as fast as my shutter will flip, I would mention. That’s fast enough to freeze a bee’s wings mid flap, or to render an in flight helicopter blade static.

It’s kind of thing with me… when it’s not a shot “I have to get,” I like to experiment and see what the capabilities of the capture device are at their extremes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I wandered around a bit with this particular set of settings, which is something else I force myself to do periodically. There are days where I leave my camera bag and zoom lenses at home and go out for a stroll with just a 50mm lens attached and the camera settings locked. The “nifty fifty” as its called, offers an aperture range between f1.8 to f22, with its only real limitation being that it’s a prime lens and fixed to its singular focal range. That means I need to either get close or go further away from a subject.

There’s a reason for this, which is to keep on my toes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Limiting yourself can sometimes force you to get a bit more creative, or just deep dive into the inner workings of the camera. The shot above won’t be finding its way into National Geographic, for instance, but it was a fine balancing act challenge – exposure wise.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Be back tomorrow with something completely different at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 8, 2018 at 11:00 am

quiet removal

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It’s National Boston Creme Pie Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If you want to know what the end of the world looks like, I can take you there. It’s about 3.8 miles from the East River, in an area of Brooklyn that is clearly Bushwick but which the real estate people refer to as East Williamburg. The end of the world is surrounded by heavy industry and waste transfer stations, and is crossed by a railroad bridge. It’s defined by a waterbody called English Kills, which is a dead end tributary of the fabulous Newtown Creek.

Just last week, a visit was paid to this paradise of nihilism.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The open sewers are just one of the apocalyptic factors back here, as is the enormous waste transfer station operated by a transnational conglomerate that handles about a third of the black bag (or putrescent) garbage collected by the Department of Sanitation. There is virtually zero laminar flow to the water here, which means that the rising and falling of the tide is a vertical affair rather than a horizontal one, creating stinking shoals along the banks and allowing sediment mounds to rise from the channel. It often smells like rubber cement thinner along this stretch of English Kills, the waters are greasy, and they commonly exhibit an uncommon and unnatural coloration highlighted by patches of weird iridescence.

Men and women seem to become possessed by the spirit of the place, wildly dumping garbage into the shallows with a gleeful abandon.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

References in the historical record refer to distinct periods in English Kills’ existential course. Once, a mostly fresh water stream fed by the springs and streams of a Bushwick that drew German beer Brewers to the area, which bled sweet water into the main body of Newtown Creek, just a decade after the American Civil War English Kills began to be described as the “industrial canals of Brooklyn.” By the time that the Army Corps of Engineers oversaw the WW1 era shaping of the Newtown Creek watershed into something we would recognize on a google map in modernity, English Kills had open pipes carrying industrial and chemical waste products into the water from acid factories and the other dirty industries surrounding it. The upland springs and steams which drew the brewers here were paved over or turned into sewers, and the only naturally occurring liquid entering the narrow channel afterwards was a tepid trickle of brackish East River water (which was itself terribly compromised) weakly pulsing in with the daily tide, or storm runoff from the streets.

Brooklyn legend suggests this area was used as a graveyard by mobsters, but that’s just a legend. Gangsters dump bodies into fast moving or oceanic water bodies like Jamaica Bay or the Hudson River. The idea is to get rid of the evidence, not to leave something incriminating in a place where it can be found.

Whatever enters English Kills stays in English Kills.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The structure pictured above is the Montrose Avenue Railroad Bridge, part of the Bushwick Branch lead tracks of the Long Island Ralroad. The bridge, and adjacent fencelines, are covered in odd graffiti which is in English but drawn with characters that betray a runic influence. The screeds warn of witches and other mythological creatures.

This is what the end of the world looks like, if… like me… the borders of your world are defined and bisected by that lugubrious ribbon of urban neglect known as the Newtown Creek.


Upcoming Tours and events

Exploring Long Island City, from Luxury Waterfront to Abandoned Factories Walking Tour,
with NY Adventure Club – Sunday, November 12th, 2:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Long Island City is a tale of two cities; one filled with glittering water-front skyscrapers and manicured parks, and the other, a highly active ground transportation & distribution zone vital to the New York economy — which will prevail? With Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

urbane rector

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It’s National Caramel Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As a well known physical coward, and after having observing that a quartet of fourth graders (whose aspect I did not like) were heading my way along Northern Boulevard the other day, it seemed logical to duck under a parked car and hide. You really just cannot be too careful these days. While passing the time it would take for these rough looking nine to ten year olds to exit the scene, one pondered about life in Western Queens and the meaning of it all. Also, I wondered how I was going to wiggle my fat ass out from under this car, which was pretty easy to dive under, but which ended up being a tighter fit than one would have guessed.

Banal reality is all I’ve got, what can I tell you?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“The Queens Cobbler” is the name I’ve assigned to a likely serial killer operating hereabouts whose macabre trophies adorn the streets of Queens in the form of singular orphan shoes. The Cobbler left behind one of his or her little messages on Broadway in Astoria recently, pictured above. It’s my belief that, just like Jack the Ripper, the Queens Cobbler is connected to one of our noble political families and that both the press and police are laboring to keep the thing quiet just for the sake of maintaining everyone’s patronage. You won’t get to be judge, or a DA, or a Captain, or an editor, if you piss them off. There’s rumors, of course…

Maybe that’s just a cast off shoe, or maybe not… the question you have to ask is – where’s the other one? You and your “Occam’s razor.” pffft.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Usually, whenever a humble narrator leaves the house, people point and stare. Women clutch at their handbags, mothers gather their children close, and dogs begin to whine pitiously. If one steps out of line in any minor way – say jay walking, or depositing metal foil in a bin marked for paper – a crowd gathers and law enforcement displays an enviable level of efficiency and deployment. These sorts of experiences are why one is constantly confused by the freedom enjoyed by serial graffitists, the bastards who post those cash for cars stickers, and those who can urinate anywhere they choose to.

My reverie beneath the car was broken when the owner of my hiding place began heading towards the vehicle, as signaled by the “beep boop” signal sent by the electronic key chain fob to the conveyance. One rolled out from my shadowed safe space and discovered that that the threatening quartet of sinister seeming children had moved on, so once again I stood and faced the concretized reality of Western Queens – here in the Newtown Pentacle.


Upcoming Tours and events

First Calvary Cemetery walking tour, May 6th.

With Atlas Obscura’s Obscura Day 2017, Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour – details and tix here.

MAS Janeswalk free walking tour, May 7th.

Visit the new Newtown Creek Alliance/Broadway Stages green roof, and the NCA North Henry Street Project – details and tix here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

April 5, 2017 at 11:00 am

visible reality

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It’s Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Day, in the Nation of Canada.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Owing to other obligations and piss poor weather conditions for the last couple of weeks, one hasn’t got anything new to show you for this week. Accordingly, it has been decided to instead present a few archive shots of the various branches of NYC government which make life liveable for us here in “Home Sweet Hell.”

Today, the focus is on the NYPD – the indomitable Police Department of New York City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You react one of two ways when the NYPD arrives – you either curse your fate, or you thank your lucky stars they’re there. Most of the cops I’ve known over the years are the very definition of “laconic” when describing their workday lives. World weariness is the consequence of spending your time in the company of those who are having an awful day. It might be the worst day of your life, but to the cops it’s just another day at work.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

NYPD officers notoriously dislikebeing photographed while pursuing their duties, which is fair enough. Saying that, if they’re in uniform and out in public, anything they do is inherently interesting to one such as myself. Even if it’s the mundane task of removing an inebriate from a subway car in Flushing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a lot of subdivision units in the NYPD, populated with specialists. The Emergency Services Unit has always held a certain fascination for me. If the regular patrol officer can be analogized to being a soldier, the ESU officer can also be described as being a Special Forces Green Beret or a NAVY Seal. They’re a small army of Batmen.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

NYPD also maintains a small navy, the Harbor Unit. Seldom commented upon, the harbor unit was originally formed to combat pirates on the East River back in the 19th century. They’re supposed to be outfitted with cutlasses, in addition to side arms, but the modern day crews don’t seem to carry any swords.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 14, 2017 at 11:00 am

Posted in NYPD, Photowalk

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glittering pinnacles

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Nothing I like better than a bleak post industrial landscape.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Behind the scenes on this whole environmental cleanup thing, there’s a lot of arguing and derision. As you’d imagine, the Government people operate according to a series of byzantine rules and exceptions, as do the so called “PRP” or “Potentially Responsible Parties” who have admitted culpability, and responsibility for, cleaning up the historical mess they’ve created in Newtown Creek. The PRP’s are divided into two camps – one is a consortium of energy companies (National Grid, ExxonMobil, BP etc.) and the former copper refinery Phelps Dodge which have styled themselves as the “Newtown Creek Group” or NCG. The other is the NYC Department of Environmental Protection, or DEP, which despite its name and municipal mission is actually the biggest modern polluter of the waterway itself. The DEP’s sewer plant in Greenpoint is the largest source of greenhouse gases which you’ll find in Brooklyn, accounting for more climate changing emissions than the Battery Tunnel, believe it or not.

NCG and DEP are both on the hook for paying to clean things up on the Newtown Creek, as the agreement they signed with the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that defined them as PRP’s was essentially the environmental law equivalent of a plea bargain agreement. As you’d imagine, both sides are trying to point a finger at the other and trying to force them into paying a larger share of the cleanup bill.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The difference between DEP and NCG, of course, is that the latter are publicly traded corporate entities who can simply pass the cleanup costs on to their customer base. National Grid recently announced a rate hike to its customers in pursuance of this goal. DEP is funded by and is an agency of the City of New York, and is funded by water taxes. No elected official, especially the current Mayor of NYC, wants to announce that taxes are going up so DEP is fighting tooth and nail to appear as an innocent and aggrieved party despite the fact that they signed that “plea bargain” alongside the NCG admitting their culpability. DEP allows in excess of a billion gallons of untreated sewage, per annum, to enter the waterway. I wish I could give you an exact number, but that’s one of the things that everyone is arguing about. If it’s raining, at all, in NYC you’ve got (according to DEP) a 63% chance that their “CSO’s” or “combined sewer outfalls” are belching raw sewage directly into the water.

DEP has argued to the various community organizations that since “chemicals of concern,” as defined in the Superfund “CERCLA” regulations, aren’t being transported in this sewage flow that they’re not even sure why they’re part of the Superfund process. Notably, they don’t do this when EPA is in the room. Speaking as a member of a few of these community organizations, I’ve queried EPA about this, and pointed out that the sewage flow is carrying a literal shit ton of solute and floatable garbage along with it. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

2016 was a pretty disappointing year on the Newtown Creek.

The City DEP is doing everything it can to wiggle out of fixing their mess. Their solution to the billion plus gallons of sewage which carry oxygen eating bacteria into the water is to spend hundreds of millions on an aeration system, which will – in essence – act as an aquarium bubble wand for the sewage. If they get the level of dissolved oxygen in the sewage high enough, they can tell the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation that they’ve solved the problem. The fact that the aeration system will be driven by electric air pumps, which will consume energy and produce greenhouse gases? Well, they’re under an order to increase the dissolved oxygen content of the water. The NYC Department of Environmental Protection is the largest modern source of ongoing water pollution on the Newtown Creek

On the historical pollution side, NCG is talking about using different “solutions” for the various regions of the Creek, which boil down to “dredge” versus “dredge and cap” versus “cap only” scenarios for removing the sediment bed of “Black Mayonnaise” which sits 20-30 feet deep along the waterway. The Black Mayonnaise is a witches brew of petroleum byproducts, coal tar, and everything else that’s ever been deposited in the water. The top layers, which represent about the last fifty years or so, were deposited by the DEP’s sewers, but the stuff at the bottom is industrial waste and spilt products which were manufactured by and belonged to Standard Oil’s refineries, Brooklyn Union Gas’s Manufactured Gas Plant, and Phelps Dodge’s acid factory and copper refinery. ExxonMobil, BP, National Grid etc. are the modern incarnations or inheritors of the energy companies mentioned above. Phelps Dodge acts a bit like a monster hiding under some kid’s bed in a dark room, and maintains a low profile. The oil and gas people are very much present in the conversation, however.

“Dredge and cap” means that the black mayonnaise will be entirely scraped away all the way down to the actual bottom of Newtown Creek, and that a layer of clay and “rip rap” (rocks) will be laid down to seal the bottom off from the water column.” “Cap only” means that the clay and rip rap will be installed OVER the sediment bed, which is a far cheaper scenario. NCG seems to be leaning towards the latter scenario for the extant tributaries like LIC’s Dutch Kills (pictured above), Maspeth Creek, and the East Branch in Ridgewood. This solution is quite a bit cheaper and easier to enact than the dredging one, which is why they’re pushing it, while dressing the plan up as “shoreline reconstruction” and “environmental restoration” in the name of palatability to people like me and my pals at Newtown Creek Alliance.

As mentioned, not a great year on the Newtown Creek.

All sides are offering carrots. I’m fashioning sticks, for use in 2017.


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general noisomeness

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Getting low in Manhattan, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A recent social engagement drew me out from amongst the rolling hills of raven tressed Astoria, caused one to cross the cataract of the East River using that subterranean electrified railway that is operated by the MTA, and to walk through the cylcopean canyons and crowded pavement of the Shining City of Manhattan.

New York, New York it’s a hell.

One realizes that the official phraseology includes “…of a town” but to me, modern Manhattan is just hell. It’s always been somewhat hellish of course, but in the last twenty years or so it’s become so god damned pedantic and boring… people walk around these days like they’re safe or something…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Compulsively “on time,” one found himself on the island quite a bit earlier than was required for the assignation, but a desire to execute some photography – no matter how god damned boring and visually uninspiring the former “fun city” has become in modernity – was paramount. Funnily enough, when I typed in “fun city” just now, the spell check on my device changed it to “fund city” which indicates that my device has begun to develop a certain sense of artificial intelligence and concurrent sense of sarcasm regarding the existential realities of modern NYC – and a particularly wry one at that.

The M Line carried me from Astoria to 53rd and Third, a location memorialized by a certain Ramones song, so I keyed a playlist of the band’s better works up on my phone, and fired up “the boys.” I started my walk, with its destination in the Tenderloin district, where my eventual social assignation would play out after I had navigated through the tourist choked maze of midtown.

I should mention that since having become involved with the whole Newtown Creek thing, and the realization that most of the environmental issues in the outer boroughs are entirely due to Manhattan’s waste products, going to “The City” just pisses me off.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Subsumed by a certain amount of contemptuous horror and ennui, my pathway carried me first up to Lexington, then Park, Madison, and 5th avenues. I had decided before exiting the subway that “today was going to be a wide angle day” and set about trying to find some way to capture an interesting shot of the banal internationalist style office blocks and chain store frontages encountered along the way. Remember when there were interesting shops and other street level businesses down here? Book stores, thrift shops, deli’s? When the street level shops were something else than high volume buffets targeted at office workers, or ATM locations?

I was constantly annoyed by crowds of slow moving people who formed “skirmish lines” across the sidewalks, walking shoulder to shoulder. Walking as much as I do, my natural pace seems to be “double time” compared to most.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Heading west, as I prefer to zig zag through the canyons, and encountered naught but more of the sort of office towers that you’ll likely not stop and appreciate for their architectural detail nor esthetic charm. Glass boxes, essentially.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Have no doubt – Queensicans – that this is the future which the “powers that be” have in store for us. Long Island City is going to look quite similar to this within the next decade. The wide open vistas and low lying industrial landscape of our little communities have been traded away in the name of “progress” and there is virtually zero investment for the infrastructure which will be needed to support the increased population loading being planned or budgeted away.

As far as our “Dope from Park Slope,” do you suppose he’s playing his fiddle at Gracie Mansion as the fires of gentrification sear away the past and create an unsustainable future?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My friends who live in Manhattan, long indifferent to the general dissatisfaction and sentiment that I and others in Western Queens and North Brooklyn feel towards the Real Estate Industrial Complex, are beginning to “get it.” They’re seeing it happen to Manhattan now, with the midtown rezonings and the construction of the massive Hudson Yards complex and the fact that there are sidewalk cafes on the Bowery and that the East Village now looks like a Midwestern shopping mall.

I would remind you all that the epitome of a NYC real estate developer is the current Republican nominee for President, and that if you want to understand the REBNY outlook on “the great unwashed” and the disconnect between their world and ours – Donald J. Trump is your exemplar.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What does all of my complaining and chiding accomplish, however? What non obvious point is a humble narrator trying to make that’s not apparent to anyone with eyes? This is NYC, and it’s always been this way here. We live in an oligarchy, and the government is populated with self serving patricians like the “Dope from Park Slope” who pretend to be the “consul of the plebs” while advancing the agenda of those who are his true masters.

I would remind, and advise, that the way things used to work in NYC was that the real estate guys didn’t get “tax breaks” and so on to build, and that in a real estate market as hot and overvalued as the one we exist in – REBNY members should be held to a rule that they have to invest in our commonly held and already strained municipal infrastructure if they want our government to “buy in” and support their dreams of avarice.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If I was able to snap my fingers and make wishes come true, I’d bring actual progressive democrats like Al Smith and LaGuardia back to life so that they could wipe the floors with our current crop of Electeds who are self described “progressives.”

The Little Flower would, I have no doubt, take issue with the idea of converting playgrounds in Public Housing projects over to building sites for luxury towers. Of course, reviving the Happy Warrior and Little Flower into our world of the living might have the unintended consequence of bringing Robert Moses back to life as well, and that’s the revenant who would shake the pillars of Municipal heaven itself.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At the end of my little sojourn, and approaching the appointed time for that aforementioned social engagement which brought me to this despoiled and overbuilt island of Manhattan, my journey across the low ended with getting high. This shot is from a roof in the Tenderloin section along Broadway in the 20’s.

This neighborhood along Broadway in the 20’s used to be a nest of high end hotels and theaters back in the 19th century. 28th street was known as “Tin Pan Alley” back then, and it’s where Gershwin and others had their offices. Before Times Square was the theater district, it was Broadway in the 20’s.  It’s known as the “Tenderloin” due to the number of whore houses and speakeasy locations that used to be here, and the easy graft which the local precinct commander received to look the other way.

The fellow who is attributed as having christened it as the “Tenderloin,” as it was the best and most tender cut of meat a cop could expect to receive during his careers, was a legendary Tammany favorite – Inspector Alexander “Clubber” Williams. 

Upcoming tours and events:


“First Calvary Cemetery” walking tour
with
Brooklyn Brainery, Saturday, October 8th from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 4, 2016 at 11:30 am

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