The Newtown Pentacle

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scarcely be

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The world is an increasingly scary place, stay home.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sunday nights, and in particular the hours directly before the midnight boundary with Monday is breached, are the only time that the Newtown Creek industrial zone slows down and takes a breath. For a few hours the constant river of vehicular traffic, industrial activity, and omnipresent noise ebb. Any other day or time, and you literally would not have the thirty seconds required for some of these night shots at the Grand Street Bridge to be recorded, due to the vibrations of passing traffic shaking and cavitating the 115 old swing bridge.

The shot above looks southwards towards Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking roughly westward, you can see the glowing eidolon known as the new Kosciuszcko Bridge about a mile away, the crane district of Maspeth on the right, and the English Kills tributary of Newtown Creek’s intersection with the main waterway and the East Branch tributary at center and left. At the bottom of the shot, in the unnaturally green waters of the East Branch, a tepid current was pulsing out from under the bridge which was – from an olfactory point of view – obviously carrying sewage towards the main stem of the Creek.

As a note, the water is lit up at the bottom of the shot by the street lamps of the Grand Street Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As intoned in a previous posting, concern about just how bright the light from the new Kosciuszcko Bridge is has been a subject of conversation of late – and more than once – amongst the Newtown Creek crowd. Light pollution, as it’s known, is meant to confuse the heck out of migratory birds. There’s actually initiatives at the “big” environmental groups to get Manhattan office buildings to dim their lights during certain times of the year in response. Given that Newtown Creek is part of the Atlantic flyover migratory route… well… who the hell cares – it’s Queens.

I guess we’re just going to wait and see what sort of evidentiary observations emerge regarding its effect.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Newtown Pentacle HQ is about two miles away from where the new K bridge crosses the water, and I can see this pillar of purple light punching into the clouds from there. I’ve seen reports on social media outlets proclaiming “lights in the sky” from Bushwick and Vinegar Hill and even Manhattan. Nobody in Queens can be bothered to pick up the phone and call either 311 or 911, as somebody else will do it or they just don’t want to get involved. Admittedly, these reports were offered by people who thought they were seeing UFO’s, but…

Just saying… if I don’t know what something is and it’s flying, it’s a UFO. I’d suggest an Internet rabbit hole term for you to follow, by the way, which are “USO” or “unknown submersible objects.” Seriously, google that. Hours of fun.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Personally, I’ve always gravitated towards more home grown and provable horror. Like the mugger gang that used to operate at the Brooklyn side of the bridge back in the 1910’s, using black jacks and billy clubs to induce unconsciousness in their victims. After emptying the stricken of the contents of their pockets, the gang would toss them into the creek. This is the 1903 version of the Grand Street Bridge pictured above, which the gang is associated with. This bridge replaced earlier models, as discussed in this post.

In 1896, the cops found a Catholic priest name Leonard Syczek floating in the water alongside the 1890 version of the bridge, and wearing the sort of full ceremonial vestments required for conducting a Mass. There’s a story there which has never been fully revealed to me, but I suspect some sort of exorcism related tale will emerge eventually. Or, at least I hope one will. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Due to my weird imaginings and remembered tales, a growing state of panic set in and I realized that one of my spells was coming on. Drops and spikes in cerebral dopamine levels began to occur, and suddenly I had to pee really bad. My feet grew cold, my nose flushed full with snot, and a single tear formed in my left eye bitterly.

While composure was still mine, a phone app was engaged, and a driver was dispatched to shepherd me back to a place where doors can be firmly locked and vouchsafed against the outside world. I left my shoes in the hallway that night, lest I track something in which I had picked up along the banks of the Newtown Creek on a foggy and unusually warm night in February.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 20, 2018 at 11:00 am

so shunned

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Like sand through the hour glass, so too are the sewers of Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Finishing up the presentation of several long exposure shots gathered around a foggy Newtown Creek, on an uncharacteristically warm February night following a soaking two day rain event, today’s post finds a humble narrator at the currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens at the Newtown Creek tributary known as the “East Branch.” For two thirds of the walk, my colleague Will Elkins from Newtown Creek Alliance was hanging out with me, but he had to split and a humble narrator found himself in a familiar territory known as “alone.”

Sort of like that tree in the shot above, looking north down Metropolitan Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The East Branch is, to say the least, environmentally compromised. The sidewalk I was standing on is actually a walkway, slung atop a seven vaulted open sewer, the twentieth largest in terms of materials vomited into the water in the entire City of New York, called “CSO NC-083.” This pipe allows somewhere’s in the neighborhood of 586 million gallons of untreated sewage egress into this shallow industrial canal annually. You should see it during the day at low tide, I tell ya.

Across the yard is a large lumber yard whose street address is along East Williamsburgh’s Grand Street, and I literally had one foot in Brooklyn and another in Queens while recording its presence.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The streets were deserted of all but occasional vehicle traffic. Because of the fog and the absence of people in what is normally a bustling and fairly dangerous to move through traffic corridor, a real sense of “spooky” permeated the air. An occasional passerby would stumble past me, offer a nod or some throaty greeting sound, and move along shaking their heads.

What? It’s not normal to be standing on a giant sewer in an industrial zone, along a Federal Superfund site in the middle of the night, taking pictures in the dark? Sheesh.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above was set to a higher sensitivity in terms of aperture and sensor ISO than the others in this post, as a note. I’m sort of interested in the light gathering power offered by allowing the camera to stare for long periods of time into darkness. Unlike the high ISO shots, however, there could a Bigfoot walking through the shot and the camera wouldn’t record it unless said Sasquatch was to stand stick still for around 35-40 seconds.

I’d recommend using a flash for Bigfoot photos, anyway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I got creeped out by a carload of teenagers at one point and hid behind a mailbox before cutting through a parking lot to get to the other side of the East Branch without having to walk back into Brooklyn where they were headed. Welcome to Queens, by the way. If you head up the hill to the right, you’re going to Ridgewood, stay on Metropolitan to the left and you’re heading towards Maspeth.

Those kids were scary. Teenagers… brrr…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After cutting through my little shortcut over to Grand Avenue (it’s Grand Street in Brooklyn, Grand Avenue in Queens). The final spot I wanted to shoot from was arrived at, the 115 year old Grand Street Bridge.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 19, 2018 at 11:00 am

aged man

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A few more late night shots from Western Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In all actuality, these shots aren’t from all that late at night, instead they’re from the latter half of the rush hour period. One was meant to be attending an “after work” meeting which was subsequently cancelled. It was – nevertheless – satisfyingly dark out, and since I had my “kit” with me I started shooting. Pictured above, the 7 and the N elevated subway lines are moving across the shot and leaving behind naught but illuminated streaks. In the background of the shot are some of the new towers which have been built to answer that clarion call which all native New Yorkers have been making for a century, which is the desire to live in Queens Plaza. I can’t recall how many times I begged my parents for us to move to Queens Plaza as a child.

Can you believe that we’ve been denied the right to live in Queens Plaza all this time? Thank god for DeBlasio, huh?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Given that my scheduled meeting was cancelled, which was meant to include a friend and colleague who lives in Sunnyside, an impromptu social engagement manifested itself and I jumped onto the 7 line to the former Middleburgh and met her at one of the many fine eating and drinking establishments found in that neighborhood. On my way, I decided to dare fate and the MTA’s rules concerning the usage of camera support equipment on their property to capture the shot above, which looks westwards along Queens Boulevard. The long exposure shot rendered both Subway and vehicular traffic as rivers of energetic light pulsing out of the shining city.

I can recommend the fish tacos at the Sidetracks bar and restaurant, as it turns out.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After escorting my friend back to her domicile, a humble narrator hoofed it back to Astoria via 43rd street alongside the fence lines of the titanic Sunnnyside Yards. I snapped the kit into action a couple of times along the way, wherever a fence was open and a salubrious point of view was available.

The shot above depicts the new construction around Queens Plaza – some of which are the same structures seen in the first shot of today’s post – as seen from a distance of one hundred and eighty three acres away.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 12, 2018 at 11:00 am

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

safe arrival

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A visit to Sims Metal Management over in LIC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

All summer long, one has a tendency to lead walking tours of the neighborhoods surrounding the fabulous Newtown Creek. There are boat tours too, but these walking and boat excursions are generally public facing tours that visit public places. My job is to provide historic context for wherever we happen to be, and describe the various issues each particular area is facing. There’s one spot along the Newtown Creek, however, which I only bring college or graduate student groups to. That’s Sims Metal, in Long Island City, and I brought a college group there last Saturday.

There’s a million reasons for this restriction, and number one is not wearing out my welcome.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Number two revolves around the very busy schedule of this waterfront business. Luckily, Sims and its management are anxious to spread the word about their recycling operations. Their Sunset Park facility was actually purpose built with visitors in mind and they maintain an education center at that site. The Newtown Creek operation is different, and is a very busy industrial site.

When I can get a group in here, the entire operation pretty much shuts down in the name of safety. The working guys love it when they see me walking a group up the road, I think, as they get to take a coffee break.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Number three is a safety issue. Several of the times I’ve been here, just on my own – it’s been strictly hard hats and steel toe boots, gloves, glasses, the whole “working guy” uniform. With a largish group of students, this isn’t realistic, so the site manager tells his crew to take a break and then carefully guides us around the site’s edges and discusses the services which the company offers.

Those services include the receipt and initial sorting of the “MGP” (metal glass plastic) and cardboard/paper materials collected by the Department of Sanitation’s curbside recycling program, which is what’s going on in the first photo of this post. All of this municipal contract material will be barged out of the Creek and sent for finer levels of sorting and processing at the Sunset Park facility.

I got to visit the operation in Sunset Park last summer, and did two posts about it – “Noxious Mysteries” and “Unusually Worried“. The latter one details the actual process of sorting recyclable garbage, if you’re into that sort of thing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The other side of Sims’ operations here at Newtown Creek revolves around commercial customers. If it’s made of metal and you’re disposing of it, Sims is one of the larger players in the recycling business. Materials like the mountain of rebar pictured above get shipped here by truck from upland sources, then are loaded onto barges and sent off to be processed at another Sims facility.

My understanding is that material like that rebar in the shot above will be sent off to Jersey City and fed into a shredder.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The “big show” at Sims on Newtown Creek always revolves around the stacks of automobiles and trucks which they process. All the fluids, batteries, and various onboard tanks have been removed from these vehicles before they get trucked in. The discarded or junked vehicles are trucked into Sims and then stacked for eventual placement on a barge. That barge will be escorted by a tugboat over to another Sims facility in New Jersey where they’ll be fed into a shredder.

I’m told that said shredder will reduce a car to metallic toothpicks in a few seconds, but no matter how many times I ask, the Sims people say it’s just too much of a safety risk to let me close enough to photograph that part of the process.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The academic group I was shepherding around last weekend were urban planning students from MIT, and were in town to study the industrial zone in Long Island City. I’ve also had Robin Nagle’s NYU class back here, as well as a group from a Dutch university who make an annual visit to Newtown Creek. We only ask Sims to open their gates to us for academic groups, as a note.

The mission of the Newtown Creek Alliance is to “reveal, restore, revitalize” Newtown Creek. Bringing student groups to Sims Metal is part of the “reveal” side of the job. You should see what my colleagues are up to on the “restore and revitalize” planks, which you’ll have ample opportunity to do this summer.


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private collector

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These pants are too tight.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in prior posts this week, a walk over to the Bushwick side of the fabulous Newtown Creek was recently endeavored upon. As I often mention, this time of the year is never a good interval for a humble narrator, who often finds himself staring out the window wishing that it wasn’t quite as rainy or snowy or cold as the winter season typically is in New Yrok City. Atmospheric hurdles notwithstanding, one nevertheless found himself standing on the Scott Avenue footbridge over the Bushwick Branch tracks contemplating his problems while capturing a lovely winter sunset on a chilly night.

As a note, that’s the garbage train you see on the tracks below. By garbage, I mean the “black bag” or “putrescent” waste stream, which is containerized up by the Waste Management company at a couple of spots along Newtown Creek, and which will be “disappeared” out of the City by a rail outfit called the New York and Atlantic.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The other day, in a post congratulating the Grand Street Bridge on its 115th birthday, I mentioned the Grand Avenue Bus Depot in Maspeth but didn’t show it. The shot above rectifies that, and it’s one of the few times that I’ve grabbed a shot of the place without being hassled by MTA’s “rent a cop” security. I don’t argue with the septuagenarian security guards there anymore, instead I write complaint letters to MTA HQ in Brooklyn, asking about exactly when the MTA decided it was kosher to abrogate my rights.

I’m becoming quite crotchety in my old age.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Buses have been increasingly focused on in recent months for one reason or another. Like a lot of the other municipal stuff which we are surrounded by, these vehicles pass by unnoticed and uncommented. They sort of blend into the background of the City and roll on by. I’ve become fascinated by them, in the context that buses are basically giant boxes of light moving along the darkened streets of the hive, and can be somewhat difficult to photograph. I like a challenge.

That’s the Q104, heading east along Astoria’s Broadway. As is the case with many of the bus routes of Queens, a part of the Q104’s replicates that of an old and forgotten trolley route. For the modern day residents of Astoria, myself included, it’s provides a vehicular connection to the Costco retail operation next door to Socrates Sculpture Garden.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Q102 on 31st street in Astoria, another line which I’ll periodically use when I’m returning from Newtown Creek and lazy sets in while I’m marching up Northern Blvd. About 800 million rides occur on MTA’s roughly 5,700 buses annually. Depending on the model of bus, which have an average life span of about 12 years on the streets of New York City, MTA pays out anywhere between $450,000 and $750,000 for EACH one of its diesel buses, and the hybrid models pictured above can add about $300,000 to the price tag for a new unit. You read that right, btw.

A lot to spend on a big box of light, no?


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luring skylines

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Only the lonely…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Girt in filthy black outer wear, with camera dangling, recent endeavor found a humble narrator scuttling in the general direction of Bushwick from Astoria. Crossing the Newtown Creek at just the right spot is critical, as the various street grids of the ancient communities which surround it are often at odds with each other and can be described as dangerously heterogenous. Walk over the wrong bridge and you could have easily added a half hour to the journey.

In the case of walking from Astoria to Bushwick, the best path to follow is actually one through Sunnyside, Woodside, and Maspeth. You want to aim yourself at the Grand Street Bridge, where you’ll get a nice view of the Koscisuzcko Bridge if you get there at the right time of day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Using knowledge of the old municipal grids which signified the borders of the independent towns and villages, one threw himself inexorably south and east. Crossing the former Thomson Avenue, now called Queens Blvd., nearby its intersection with Greenpoint/Roosevelt Avenue vouchsafed me passage out of the street pattern of the Middleburgh section of Long Island City now known as Sunnyside. The natural turn one would make at this point is about ten blocks eastwards at 58th street nearby the so called “Big Six” buildings, which is less than pedestrian friendly and visually “meh.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Instead, one cut through the funereal properties of the Roman Catholic Church called “Second Calvary Cemetery,” a path which guaranteed one a bit of quietude and solace. One always feels at home amongst the tomb legions, for their condemnations and judgment are always silent. There are four Calvary Cemeteries, by the way, which share common supervision under an organization called “the Trustees of Old St. Patrick’s cathedral.” The local manager – over the groundskeepers, interments, office, and all other existential issues is provided by a fellow named Joe.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As is the case with many cemeteries in Queens, a highway bisects the property. In this case, it’s the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, and although the local street below it has no street signs or other demarcations – it’s Laurel Hill Blvd. The Calvary’s on the southern extent of the highway are Calvary #’s three and four. You end up on 58th street anyway, at the end of this street, where a southern or right turn is exacted. You’re still in Woodside at this point, incidentally.

The sidewalks stop about halfway between 58th street’s two corners, and it’s a long block between the BQE and the Long Island Expressway, I tell ya, and there ain’t no sidewalks for most of it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Along 58th, on the east side of the street, is Mount Zion cemetery. Third Calvary is across the road, on the west side. Mount Zion is a Jewish cemetery, and was primarily set up for folks who lived on the crowded Lower East side of lower Manhattan. This graveyard uses every possible square inch of space for interments.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was on 58th street, along the wrought iron gates of Mount Zion Cemetery, that the latest trophy of the Queens Cobbler was observed. The Queens Cobbler is – of course – a local serial killer who leaves behind single shoes as ghastly trophies of his or her nefarious activities.

One couldn’t linger though, as a particular form of psychological torment was awaiting me in Bushwick and I didn’t want to be late.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 6, 2018 at 2:30 pm

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