The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Posts Tagged ‘newtown creek

watching sentinels

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One more bit of Creekery.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Even at three or four in the morning, it’s hard to find a thirty second interval on the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge during which heavy trucks or buses aren’t passing over the double bascule drawbridge and causing it to quiver and quake. Getting any sort of usable long exposure shot from up there is a matter of luck for most. Since I give it a go every time I’m walking over it at night, the law of averages states that I’m occasionally going to be able to time it right.

That’s the new Kosciuszcko Bridge in the distance, poking its head up over the industrial zone found along Railroad Avenue in LIC’s Blissville section. That enormous smokestack is all that’s left of Van Iderstine’s fat rendering operation.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If “over yonder” means the Greenpoint, Brooklyn side of Newtown Creek, then over yonder that’s what used to be called the BP Amoco yard. It’s a distribution hub for petroleum products, and those tanks contain various flavors of refined products. It sits in part of the footprint of the old Standard Oil Sone and Fleming refinery complex which would one day become Mobil Oil. Across Apollo Street to the east was another Standard refinery operation – Locust Hill. Apollo Street is the epicenter of the Greenpoint Oil Pill discovery and remediation process.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This shot is actually a handheld one, looking roughly westwards across Greenpoint towards Manhattan. Remember that heavy traffic I mentioned? Never, ever stops.

Back Monday with something different, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


Come on a tour!

With Atlas ObscuraInfrastructure Creek AT NIGHT! My favorite walking tour to conduct, and in a group limited to just twelve people! October 15th, 7-9 p.m.

Click here for more information and tickets!

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

October 11, 2019 at 1:00 pm

spiritual dread

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My beloved Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These shots were gathered while I was riding on a hybrid ferry boat, which at the time was running on its electric mode. This was a novel experience, I must say. Beyond the whole environmental thing, what was fascinating about this vessel was how quiet it was, and how the deck plates weren’t vibrating with transmitted engine oscillations. Can’t tell you much about the thing, as it wasn’t my “show.”

Saying that, my “show” will be once again opening its curtains on Wednesday October 15th, with an Atlas Obscura/Airbnb “experience” offering my “Infrastructure Creek” walk to a very limited group of 12. This will be an evening/night walk, which should be pretty exciting. Link is both above and below, so please come with if you can. The same tour will be repeated on October 29th. These tours are part of how I keep a roof over my head, so any and all tickets sold essentially feed me, and fund the various technologies which allow me to bring you Newtown Pentacle five days a week and fifty two weeks a year.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Astoria Community Board 1 will be gathering at Astoria World Manor on Astoria Blvd. tonight at 6:30. It promises to be an interesting meeting. The Transportation Alternatives organization (Bicycle people) will be offering a presentation pushing for their latest advocacy position which asks the City to create a protected bike lane on Crescent Street connecting the Triborough and Queensboro Bridges. This is sure to be the subject of much conversation and gnashing of teeth in the coming months here in the ancient village, so… Additionally, there is a proposal to develop two currently industrially zoned properties on the Ditmars side of the neighborhood on 45th and 46th street into largish apartment houses.

Discussion of the latter has obsessed the frequent commenters found at Facebook’s Astoria discussion group for the last week. That particular cadre of opinion offerers seem to be composed largely of people who moved out of Astoria in the 1980’s that offer an overly sentimental picture of the “good old days” which has little resemblance to reality. For instance, somebody who is in their mid 60’s in 2019 that says “you could leave your doors unlocked back then” is referring to the late 1970’s in NYC. That’s the midst of an era when you not only triple locked your door, you also installed iron bars on both first AND second story windows.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That aphorism about leaving your door open is something I’ve encountered my entire life. My maternal grandparents offered it when referring to living in the “Shtetl” or Lower East Side of Manhattan during the 1920’s when they first got here. My mom and dad also repeated the refrain when referring to East New York’s Brownsville or Brooklyn’s Borough Park where they respectively grew up (the Waxman family’s ancestral property holdings are now a part of the Maimonides Hospital parking garage). You heard this in the neighborhoods which I grew up in, and the saying was always tinged with a certain amount of racism, with the underlying implication that things were better during a more segregated era (red lining was a practice in the real estate world which only allowed certain ethnicities to live in certain areas. It’s part of the “how and why” which NYC’s “ethnic” enclaves were formed by – African American Bed Stuy and Bushwick, Hispanic North Brooklyn, Jewish Midwood and Crown Heights, Italian Bensonhurst and so on).

Back tomorrow with something else. See you tonight at CB1 if you want to come watch the show. Me, I wish I was going to be on a boat tonight during the storm, electric or not. I spend too much of my life in meetings.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


Come on a tour!

With Atlas ObscuraInfrastructure Creek AT NIGHT! My favorite walking tour to conduct, and in a group limited to just twelve people! October 15th, 7-9 p.m.

Click here for more information and tickets!

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.

was invariable

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DUPBO, in LIC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp, or DUPBO in Long Island City, is pictured above. Recent endeavor found one wandering around this area just after sunset about a week ago, and one decided to get busy with the camera.

The Pulaski Bridge was built by the NYC DOT as a replacement to the older Vernon Avenue Bridge which was found about a block or so to the west. The old bridge connected LIC’s Vernon Blvd. with Greenpoint’s Manhattan Avenue, and there was a streetcar or trolley service which connected the two shorelines of Newtown Creek. The former Orchard Street (bet Greenpoint Avenue and the Creek) in Brooklyn was renamed “Manhattan Avenue” about 1915 (I believe, and that’s from memory so don’t trust me on that), as the LIC side offered proximity to the brand new IRT Flushing line (the 7) subway. The trolley stop in LIC, where the trolley came to rest, is the NYC Parks Dept.’s “Vernon Mall” today. Back then, you named streets for where they were going, today you give parks meaningless names which obfuscate the past, but that’s why Greenpoint’s Orchard Street is Manhattan Avenue today.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The derelict shoreline of LIC in DUPBO between the bridge and the Vernon street end is occupied and exploited by a colony of squatter boats these days. A hundred years ago, you would have been looking at a fleet of small tugs owned by the Newtown Creek Towing Company, whose HQ was found next door to an Ulmer Brewery Tap room on Vernon beneath the old bridge. Back then, modern day 54th and 53rd avenues were part of the LIRR Pigeon Street rail yard, which adjoined the Hunters Point Yard on the north and had tracks feeding into the Jack Frost sugar factory on the East River. The squatter boats are all blurry looking because they were rolling around on the wake of a tugboat and barge combo which had just navigated past.

The large structure on the Greenpoint side is the former Chelsea Fiber and Jute Mill at the end of Manhattan Avenue, which is known to modernity as the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center – or GMDC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As part of the post WW2 citywide expansion of arterial roadways, drawn up by and overseen by Robert Moses, the Pulaski Bridge was designed as a high draught drawbridge which would span the Newtown Creek and magnify the amount of traffic flow between the two boroughs. Both 11th street in LIC and what would come to be called McGuinness Blvd. in Greenpoint were widened to accommodate this extra traffic. From DUPBO, you may notice that the Pulaski sports what appears to be an unfinished traffic ramp which arcs off of the eastern or Queens bound side. I’ve never been able to confirm it definitively, but the general presumption I hold is that Moses and his crew once intended to connect the Pulaski’s “flow” with the Long Island Expressway.

A bascule drawbridge of paralell counterweight design and driven by electrical motors, construction of the Pulaski Bridge was overseen by the New York City Commissioner of Public Works – Frederick Zurmuhlen – and the general contractor employed in building it was the Horn Construction Company, with steel and expertise supplied by Bethlehem Steel. It opened in September of 1954 at a cost of $9,664,446.25 – and a reconstruction of the bridge in 1994 cost $40 million. It carries five lanes of vehicular traffic, as well as dedicated (and now separated) bicycle and pedestrian lanes, and it’s a primary crossing between north Brooklyn and western Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking eastwards along Newtown Creek, a tug and barge passed through this thirty second exposure, causing a colorful light show to appear on my camera’s sensor. I’m fascinated by this sort of time capture, incidentally. The normal procedure for photographically capturing the passage of time is to record video, of course, or even to fire off a burst of shots. One of the things that’s emerged during all of this night photo long exposure work I’ve been doing for awhile now is that I can reveal traffic patterns, the passage of normally invisible critters in the water, even the invisible currents of air if I set the camera up correctly. You can see the pathways of fish in the water, rendered out by the reflective streaks coming off of their scales, for instance.

If I was sure that I wouldn’t blow up Brooklyn or Queens (or the Buckeye Pipeline), I’d love to throw a block of magnesium into the water and photograph it as it sank and burned – illuminating the bed of the creek. Who can guess, all there is, that might be swimming around down there? Subaqueous features, sunken boats, Jimmy Hoffa?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the staircase leading up to the LIC side of the pedestrian walkway atop the Pulaski Bridge. One advises all not to hold onto the side rails unless they have to, as the Pulaski’s rafters are full of pigeons and the entire bridge is covered in layers of guano.

The lady on the bicycle annoyed me, incidentally. Seeing me standing there with a camera and tripod setup, she first stopped her bike literally two feet away and in front of me for an interval of playing with her phone. I gently asked “excuse me, miss, can I ask you to just move forward two feet so as you’re not in my shot?” to which she silently shot me back a look of annoyance and then rolled further into the shot and right in front of the stairs. So enthralled with her glowing piece of telecommunicative glass that bodily movements all but ceased, she appears in the shot above as a semi transparent statue. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere, but I wouldn’t want to trigger the “waiting to be offended” or “overly sensitive” millennial crowd.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking upwards at the control tower of the Pulaski Bridge from the waters edge, which is what you’re seeing. That’s where the various knobs, dials, buttons, and levers that open and close the thing are found.

These shots were gathered using my “minimal” carry setup (2 light lenses, cable release, air blower, couple of lens cloths, and that Ultrapod camera support gizmo), and I used the cheapo Canon “pancake” 24mm lens which I’ve mentioned in the past for all of them. For a variety of reasons, it doesn’t always work for me to grab the whole kit and kaboodle on my way out of HQ, and I’m also trying to carry a bit less around with me than I usually do at the moment in general. Also, not having zoom lenses and being “mission specific” forces me to think more about the “where” of my shots and there’s also the whole “be intentional” thing.

Also, lest I forget, “Pulaski Bridge” – Casimir Pulaski was a Polish military officer who joined General Washington’s Continental Army of the 13 colonies in order to assist in their war of rebellion against the Hanoverian Throne of England during the Revolutionary War. Google him, interesting person, and a Polish National Hero.

I have to don my monkey suit tonight and head off to the City for a party with the fancy folks on the Hudson side of things. I’ll be carrying the minimum kit again, so let’s see what I can get.


“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 blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 7, 2019 at 11:00 am

uncanny noise

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I got to ride on a New York and Atlantic Freight Train!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is the New York and Atlantic’s newest ride – Engine 400. Before I say anything else, I want to acknowledge my pal David Silver and his encyclopedic knowledge of all things rail for pointing me in the right direction on the original make and model of this particular locomotive engine. Originally built in 1966 for the B&O railroad, this model GP40 locomotive’s original configuration offered some 3,000 HP.

NY&A has recently (2018) had the thing rebuilt at Knoxville Locomotive Works to bring it in line with modern day Tier 4 emissions standards. It lost 700 HP in the conversion, it seems, but NY&A operates on fairly level terrain (by rail standards) in NYC and Nassau and Suffolk Counties. NY&A are a private company contracted by the Long Island Railroad to handle their freight duties, as a note.

Also as a note, I’ve actually photographed this unit before, at night in Maspeth at the Haberman tracks in March of 2019. Check that out here.

from wikipedia

The GP40 is a 4-axle diesel-electric road-switcher locomotive built by General Motors, Electro-Motive Division between November 1965 and December 1971. It has an EMD 645E3 16-cylinder engine generating 3,000 hp (2,240 kW).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The ride itself was offered by NY&A, the Waste Management Company, and the North Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. A small group of invitees assembled at Waste Management’s Brooklyn waste transfer station on Varick Street, and there were three opportunities to ride on the thing along the Bushwick Branch tracks leading through East Williamsburg into Ridgewood and then Maspeth. I rode it twice, sitting out the middle trip so I could get shots of the thing coming and going.

This was actually pretty exciting for me, since my oft repeated “I don’t trespass” stance has often found a humble narrator staring wistfully at some trackway which I was dying to explore. Today’s post is proof of my pudding that eventually I will get to go where I want, in the company of the people who own the thing, and that I will be able to publish the photos publicly. A number of the officers of NY&A were onboard, notably the NY&A’s president James Bonner.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hampering the efficiency of the line are the multiple “at grade” street crossings which the route follows. There are no signal arms or even flashing lights and bells to warn motorists or pedestrians or even – god forbid… bicyclists – that the train is about to cross the street along this section of the route. Procedure dictates that the conductor (apparently that’s what you call the guy, even though there’s usually no passengers) gets off the train and walks ahead of the engine, stopping approaching traffic the NYC way – standing in the middle of the street and waving his arms around.

James Bonner told me that this situation is something that the company is trying to fix with some haste, but for now the train moves through this section of the Creeklands at the limited speed which a conductor can walk.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The train carried us roughly a mile into Queens and then reversed back towards the Varick Street location. A humble narrator got quite busy with the camera on this trip. Most of what I shot were pretty boring photos, which were recorded in a simple documentarian manner depicting and detailing the otherwise forbidden rail tracks. During the excursion, I was allowed to walk around on the engine’s catwalks. There were a couple of other photographers along for the trip, as a note. Assemblyman Joe Lentol of Greenpoint was onboard as well, along with other notables from Brooklyn. At one point, the Commissioner of the NYC Dept. of Sanitation showed up and she made a speech.

The notables were riding in a little caboose at the back of the train set. I rode in the caboose on the last ride of the day, but during the first trip I was on the locomotive section. In between the two, there was a “slug,” which I’m told acts as a purely mechanical augment to the locomotive engine providing additional tractive effort assistance and extra braking capability.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The engineer driving the train was a pretty good humored fellow, but I never did catch his name. He was seated at a console offering multiple digital indicators and gauges. I don’t have room for what the console looked like in this post, but if you want to get an idea of it – check out this photo of the setup over at flickr.

Of course I had to be a jackass at least once during the trip, and while standing on the engine’s catwalk at a street grade crossing in Maspeth, I spotted an attractive woman waiting for the train to pass. I shouted out “hey, what do you think of my ride?” to her, and she smiled and then winked her eye at me. It was probably just the sun, or dust, or a seizure, but I’m holding on to it being a wink – thank you very much. I’ve still got it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The train returned to the Waste Management facility at Varick Street, where bags of NY&A shwag were waiting for us. I got a neat baseball hat with a NY&A logo on it, and a pen with a logo too. Just behind the train, you’ll notice a fence line with some green material affixed to it. Right on the other side of that bridge is the loathsome terminus of the Newtown Creek’s English Kills tributary, some 3.8 miles from the East River. The water is crossed by, and the Bushwick Branch tracks are mounted upon, the Montrose Avenue Rail Bridge, which is roughly 3.7 miles from the East River.

I don’t come back here very often – remember that “I don’t trespass” thing? Also, this is a pretty far walk from Astoria. Saying that, check English Kills and the Montrose Avenue Bridge out at night in this 2019 post, during the day in this 2017 one, and for more on the LIRR’s Bushwick Branch tracks click through and all the way back to a simpler time in this 2012 post.

What a week I had!


“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 blurb.com for $30.

done among

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Whom will stop the rain? Still, I wonder.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, one had to attend a Superfund meeting at Greenpoint’s PS 110, and since the presentation being offered by officialdom was something I was seeing for the third time, I got bored. Accordingly, I wandered around the public school floor I was on for a few minutes, wondering what grade school class rooms looked like these days. In the case of PS 110, which is a centuried building found across the street from McGolrick Park in Greenpoint, the answer is found in the shot above.

I don’t know, wasn’t expecting holograms or something, but that’s pretty much what school looked like 45 years ago when I could still fit in one of those chairs.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Additionally, last weekend, I had to attend an event at Newtown Creek Alliance HQ – the Kingsland Wildflower Festival – and I also got bored. I’m easily bored, as a note. I went wandering for a bit and disappeared from the event, and noticed this crew digging and scraping into the pavement. They must have heard the old legend about the pirate Blackbeard burying chests of loot here in Greenpoint back in the colonial era and were trying their luck. Didn’t see any 18th century Spanish Doubloons, Dutch Gilders, or gold of any kind in their truck, so I figure that they came up empty.

Ever hear the one about the guy in Greenpoint who set up an improvised oil derrick in his back yard about twenty years ago, seeking to tap into the underground oil spill?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After a fairly adventure free and somewhat frustrating summer, the Fall has been absolutely and stunningly fun for me. This week alone, I’ve managed to spend a day on a boat with the US Army Corps of Engineers, and yesterday I got to ride in a locomotive engine on the former Evergreen (modern day Bushwick Branch) tracks found on the eastern side of Newtown Creek.

The camera has had a real workout recording all sorts of cool stuff, as you’ll see 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 blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 27, 2019 at 11:00 am

another moment

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Lots and lots going on in Queens and Brooklyn this week.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At Aviation High School, tonight, the NYC EDC will be presenting the latest iteration of their outlandish and quixotic plan to deck over the Sunnyside Yards. This municipal boondoggle has been going on for years now. Community opposition to this monster has grown and grown even as EDC has doubled down on it. The estimated numbers for what this project is currently projected to cost are on the order of waging a small war. I’ve got intel on what the internal estimates which are being floated at EDC for the cost of just building the deck itself. I don’t want to say them out loud since that might “out” some of the people internally at the organization who secretly oppose the Sunnyside Yards project, but let’s just say this:

If you were able to save $100,000 a year, it would take you 220,000 years to save enough for this decking project. You’d alternatively be able to purchase 733,000 cars at $30,000 a pop. If dollars were miles, you’d be able to enjoy 46,044 thousand round trips to the moon. If dollars were tax refunds, you’d be able to write a $66.77 check to every living American citizen (all 329,467,210 of us).

The Sunnyside Yards meeting will be held at Aviation High School (45-30 36th St., corner of Queens Blvd., in Long Island City, NY 11101) tonight between 5 and 8 p.m.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On a personal note, I’m a little bit behind schedule as this week starts, and am struggling to keep up with the various “have to’s” which are upcoming. A few pretty exciting, to me at least, opportunities are coming up in coming weeks. I’m going to get to ride on a freight train, and inspect Port Newark with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. There’s also a couple of swell parties coming up.

This Saturday; Newtown Creek Alliance, Broadway Stages, NOoSPHERE Arts, Greenpoint Innovations and Alive Structures will be offering the Kingsland Wildflower Festival in Greenpoint between 2 and 6 in the afternoon.

Details for the event can be found here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If you want to watch me pretending to be an adult, and a responsible member of society, Astoria’s Community Board 1 will be gathering tomorrow night (Tuesday the 17th) at Astoria World Manor (25-22 Astoria Boulevard) at 6:30 p.m. to discuss issues of the day and resume the monthly meeting schedule after the summer hiatus. I don’t think anything earth shattering will be happening, but you never know, and if you haven’t attended a community board meeting… well, why not? That’s how republics die – apathy.

The Newtown Creek Community Advisory Group – or CAG – will also be resuming its meeting schedule with the various powers that be on Wednesday (the 18th) night over in Brooklyn and also at 6:30 p.m. at PS 110 auditorium (124 Monitor Street).

October 3rd will see a Newtown Creek Alliance benefit event – the “Tidal Toast” – occur at 520 Kingsland Avenue in Greenpoint. Want to help us do what we do? Support the “reveal, restore, revitalize” work that NCA does? Grab a ticket. There’ll be food, and drinks too! Click here for more info.


“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 blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 16, 2019 at 12:00 pm

shuddering violently

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Palpable, redolent, and exhausting – that’s me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It has been one heck of a couple of weeks for a humble narrator, and boy oh boy am I beat up. There’s the proverbial “burning the candle at both ends” and then there’s just throwing the candle into a campfire. The latter is what I’ve been up to, and I’ve finally arrived at a short interval whereupon I can relax for a couple of days and “chill.” Busy is better than having nothing to do, but… I like to break words down to reveal their true meaning, and “recreation” is a literal and tangible requirement at the moment. Time to re-create.

I’ve got a book or two which I want to put together, and I’m hoping to have one or the other ready and available for Christmas. Meeting season is also upon me, and it’s time to start annoying the Government people again. Community Board, Superfund, and a new hopeless cause right here in Astoria which I’ve been laying the groundwork for are about to kick into gear. Anything y’all want me to rattle on about with officialdom? Leave me instructions and so on in the comments, and I’ll see if I can get your pet peeve considered and in front of the right people.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a mean season in politics coming, what with all the three term incumbents term limited in both Brooklyn and Queens. On both sides of the Newtown Creek, the “powers that be” are all about to change seats after a long period of predictability. New factions and interest groups will be manifesting themselves and pushing their particular apple carts. As is always the case with “sharp elbows,” things are already starting to get ugly, and we’re nowhere near an election at the moment.

It’s going to be an interesting if mean interval, I think. Epic bullshitting is what I expect to hear and see, in our ongoing ideological war between the “Know nothings” and the “Whigs.” As I’m wont to remind and chide – Civilizations end, but life goes on. Also, the war between the Cowboys and the Arabs has been going on for 18 years now, and there’s no end in sight, but nobody talks about that.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s what sunrise on the new Kosciuszcko Bridge looks like, as a note. Captured this last Sunday morning, which feels like it was a month ago to me. Back Monday with something else that I can’t imagine quite yet.

Don’t know what I’m doing with my time off this weekend, but I’ll have the camera with me. Can’t wait to find out where I’m going to go and what I’m going to see, but you’ll see it here – at 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 blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 13, 2019 at 1:00 pm

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