The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘ny harbor

was nightlocking

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Who can guess, all there is, that might be lurking down there?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In industrial Maspeth, where I spent last Sunday afternoon, are the relict maritime industrial bulkheads of a corporate outfit called Phelps Dodge, which has long since “left the building.” The Phelps Dodge property has been divided up, sold off, and developed separately. The company, which was in the copper refining trade along Newtown Creek, is one of the “PRP” or “potentially responsible parties” originally named in the EPA’s 2010 Superfund declaration for the waterway. Although there isn’t even a sign indicating they were once here, Phelps was one of the largest employers on the Queens side of the Creek for more than a century. The first incarnation of what would become the Phelps Dodge plant on the LIC/Maspeth border planted heir stakes here in 1872 as “G.H. Nichols and Co.,” later becoming “Nichols Chemical Co.” in 1891 and then “General Chemical Company” in 1899. In 1930, the so called Laurel Hill plant was purchased by the Phelps Dodge corporation. At it’s height, the plant directly employed 17,000 people.

They manufactured several chemicals here, but their main product line centered around sulfuric acid. The Phelps Dodge people were copper refiners, ultimately, and used the acid to free metal ore from the rock it was embedded in.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Laurel Hill Plant declined, and in 1984 it was shuttered. The United States Postal Service purchased the site from Phelps Dodge in 1986, hoping to use it as a truck storage yard, but it was soon determined that the property was too contaminated for use as a parking lot and a judge ordered Phelps Dodge to buy back the property in 1996. In 2001, the old factory and acid mill buildings were torn down, and the property was subdivided into lots. At one of these lots, the Restaurant Depot wholesale chain erected a location. On another, the Koscisuzcko Bridge replacement project is playing out, and on yet another a brand new Federal Express shipping hub has been created.

The shots in today’s post depict the last vestiges of Phelps’s long occupancy, the remains of heavy piers which carried terminal railway trackage on them, allowing for barge to rail operations at the acid factory and copper refinery.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Phelps Dodge property is found just to the south of the LIRR’s Lower Montauk tracks, along a section known as “deadmans curve.” The nickname for this section of the tracks is due to the Berlinville Rail Disaster in 1893 (two LIRR passenger trains collided at speed, engine to engine) and the habits of Phelps Dodge workers who would routinely attempt to run in front of and outpace the trains when crossing the railroad tracks, resulting in a lot of squished employees.

Modern day 43rd street used to be a colonial era pathway that crossed modern day Queens from the forbidden northern coast of Queens’ Berrian and Riker properties at Bowery Bay in Astoria, then ran south and across the swamps at modern day Northern Blvd. and then over the hills of Middleburgh (Sunnyside) and then down to Newtown Creek through Maspeth. This path was paved with crushed oyster shells, and hence was called “The Shell Road.” It’s a little hard to visualize this in modernity, because y’know… Robert Moses. The Long Island Expressway, BQE, Queens Blvd., Northern Blvd., and the Grand Central Parkway all conclude this ancient pathway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a couple of other businesses on the former Phelps properties, but none of them look towards the water. I can’t speak intelligently about who owns what, but from observation it seems that since Superfund when a property changes hands on the creek the original owner holds on to the sections that directly touch the water. My presumption is that this insulates the new owners against liability for the cleanup costs, but that’s an assumption and you know what “they” say when you “assume” something. It makes an “ass” out of “you” and “me.”

What I can tell you for certain is that these collapsing and rotting heavy piers look pretty cool and make for good lens fodder.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That water pouring out of the pipe you see is a permitted “SPDES” outfall, and connected to the Kosciuszcko Bridge project. It was a late afternoon low tide period when these shots were captured. With all the rain we’ve been getting, the “eau de Creek” was particularly strong and inescapable, amplified as it was by a dew point humidity up in the 75% range.

A humble narrator was also cooking in the early August emanations of the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself, and there were a few times when touching the camera that I was concerned about how hot it was getting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Before any of you accuse me of heavily retouching or manipulating these shots to make things look surreal and weird – here’s how I got them:

These are deep focus, narrow aperture tripod shots accomplished via the usage of a ten stop ND filter. This allows for exposure times of (in the case of today’s images) twenty to thirty seconds. This smooths out the water, and renders the specular highlights of sun and wave invisible. It also allows the camera to peer into the shallows and depths alike, offering a chance to observe and answer the oft asked question of “Who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?”


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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 14, 2018 at 11:00 am

pregnant pauses

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Announcing two free boat tours, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This Saturday is the Waterfront Alliance’s “City of Water Day” event, and with NY Waterways, the folks at WA have given me the opportunity to bring two boat loads worth of people to the fabulous Newtown Creek. The tours are free (there is a $5 registration fee during ticketing) and will be 90 minutes long. There’s a ten a.m. and a twelve p.m. tour, both of which will include a fully narrated history of the East River and the Newtown Creek. Navigational issues and timing dictate that we are going to be visiting the first half of the Creek only, which is as far as the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge roughly one and a half miles from the mouth.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ticketing links for the tours (as well as a couple of other offerings I’ve got going this weekend) are at the bottom of this post. Sights you’ll see up close from the water include the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment plant, SimsMetal Recycling, Allocco Recycling, the Pulaski and Greenpoint Avenue Bridges, and the coastlines of Long Island City and Greenpoint. The East River section seen and discussed will be the equivalent stretch from Manhattan’s Pier 11 (Wall Street) to 23rd street. That gives you Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg Bridges as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Come with? My colleague from Newtown Creek Alliance – Will Elkins – is going to be sharing the microphone duty with me on the Newtown Creek, exploring the meaning and manifestations of our “Reveal, Restore, Revitalize” motto at Newtown Creek Alliance.


Upcoming Tours and Events

Saturday, July 14th – City of Water Day Newtown Creek Boat Tours – with Waterfront Alliance, NY Waterways, and Newtown Creek Alliance.

As part of the Waterfront Alliance’s “City of Water Day” event, I’ll be conducting two free 90 minute boat tours heading to Newtown Creek, leaving from Pier 11 in Manhattan. We won’t be visiting the entire Newtown Creek, as a note, due to time constraints and navigational issues, but we will get a good mile and a half of it in.

Tickets and more details

Ten a.m. departure here.
Twelve p.m. departure here.

Saturday, July 14th – Exploring Long Island City – with NY Adventure Club.

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?

Tickets and more details
here.

Sunday, July 15th – Penny2Plank – with Newtown Creek Alliance.

There are eleven bridges crossing the modern day Newtown Creek and its tributaries, nine of which are moveable bridges of one kind or another. Other bridges, forgotten and demolished, used to cross the Creek. The approaches to these bridges are still present on the street grids of Brooklyn and Queens as “street ends.” Newtown Creek Alliance and a small army of volunteers have been working to transform these “street ends” from weed choked dumping grounds into inviting public spaces. This walk with NCA historian Mitch Waxman will take you there and back again, discussing the history and current status of these street ends and the territory in between.

The tour will start in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint, and end in Queens’ Maspeth nearby the Grand Street Bridge.

Tickets and more details
here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

vast armful

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Artsy fartsy at Dutch Kills.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the derisive things people say about me is that it often seems like I’m exploring some random tangent with no apparent goal. This cannot be further from the truth, as there are overarching strategic goals which can sometimes take years and years to play out and are expressed by following various tactics along the way. Part of the reason that you have seen so much in the way of long exposure night photography in recent months, here at your Newtown Pentacle, has been in pursuit of familiarizing myself with the techniques and foibles associated with this particular discipline.

I’ve also been slowly accumulating “kit,” on a tight budget.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A recent addition to my camera bag is a ten stop ND filter. For those not familiar with such photographic nitty gritty, an ND filter is essentially a very dark sunglass for your lens, which allows you to slow – or stop – down the daylight exposure process to something approximating night time exposures. Thirty second or longer exposures are made possible with the little chunk of semi opaque black glass.

Of course, the day after I picked up the filter, that heat wave we all so enjoyed kicked into gear. This sort of thing happens to me all the time… get a new lens?… weeklong blizzard… tripod?… two weeks of rain.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When I finally was able to make the time and endure the weather, I took the ND filter and the rest of my camera bag over to my happy hunting grounds at the Dutch Kills tributary of the fabulous Newtown Creek and got busy. I kept on having to shoo away angry geese, as a note, but I’m pretty happy with my initial results and look forward to drilling down into and exploring what I can do with this new tool.

Geese are dicks. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Research is essential when purchasing anything camera related, otherwise you’re going to end up spending a fortune. All camera tripod mounts use a twenty turn quarter inch screw, for instance. If you buy that screw at a camera shop, it’s going to cost you $5-7 for just one screw, whereas the same amount of cash will buy you a bag of fifty of them at Home Depot. At home, I’m constantly improvising this or that for table shots and other needs rather than buying something expensive from BH Photo that I’ll use just once.

I bought a screw on type filter, rather than the filter holder arrangement of the type offered by the Lee company. I avoided the variable type, instead getting a “regular” ND filter manufactured under the ICE brand name for about thirty bucks. The thing you have to watch out for with these devices is color cast. They’ve all got a color cast, I’m told, whether they cost $30 or $300, so I opted for the most affordable option after doing my research. As a note, the BH Photo and Adorama organizations have uploaded hours and hours of video to YouTube that discuss the usage and nature of the gear they sell. Some of these are instructional videos, for those possessed of all levels of photographic acumen. Worth a look.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The problem with something this dark on the front of your lens is in composition and focusing, but that’s where some of the online research came in handy. The traditional manner (and best practice, admittedly) to handle the ND process is by doing a filterless “master shot” and then calculating the extra exposure time needed when the filter is applied. Instead, on the advice of a vlogging landscape photographer, I activated the live view screen on the camera (which I almost never do) and this gave me a somewhat inaccurate preview of the shot which also allowed me to set the point of focus. The trick is in setting the screen to show you the histogram of the shot while you’re composing and fiddling with settings. Since these shots were gathered at narrow apertures (f8-f18) the only thing I really had to worry about was “hyperfocal” distance, focus wise.

Hyperfocal distance is the theoretical field of acceptable sharpness which starts at five to seven feet from the lens and then extends out to infinity.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has a fairly full schedule for this coming week, but I’m anxious to find myself at an opportune point of view with flowing water to take advantage of the time stretching aspects of this ND filter. First chance I get, I’m heading to the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Park, with my fingers crossed that the fountains will be turned on.

I’m glad that there are no fountains on the Newtown Creek, actually.


Upcoming Tours and Events

Saturday, July 14th – Exploring Long Island City – with NY Adventure Club.

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?

Tickets and more details
here.

Sunday, July 15th – Penny2Plank – with Newtown Creek Alliance.

There are eleven bridges crossing the modern day Newtown Creek and its tributaries, nine of which are moveable bridges of one kind or another. Other bridges, forgotten and demolished, used to cross the Creek. The approaches to these bridges are still present on the street grids of Brooklyn and Queens as “street ends.” Newtown Creek Alliance and a small army of volunteers have been working to transform these “street ends” from weed choked dumping grounds into inviting public spaces. This walk with NCA historian Mitch Waxman will take you there and back again, discussing the history and current status of these street ends and the territory in between.

The tour will start in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint, and end in Queens’ Maspeth nearby the Grand Street Bridge.

Tickets and more details
here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

corridor outside

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Remember, remember…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On this day, June 15th in 1904, the General Slocum excursion boat left its dock at Peck Slip in Manhattan at ten in the morning with just over 1,000 people onboard – most of whom were women and children. It caught fire as it moved north on the East River, and reports of smoke below deck reached the wheelhouse as it was passing 97th street in Manhattan. It didn’t take long for the wood hulled boat to catch fire. It was a product of Tammany’s NYC, where safety inspectors could be convinced to overlook violations for a small sum, which is why the life vests were filled with sawdust and powdered cork and the fire hoses onboard were either non existent or rotted. Most of the crew abandoned ship, leaving the passengers to fend for themselves. By the time it grounded at North Brother Island, the official death toll was 1,021. Bodies were washing onshore at Hells Gate for days.

Today is the anniversary of the day that Lassez Faire capitalism and local control of the ferry industry ended in NYC, and why the United States Coast Guard was given broad oversight powers regarding safety onboard vessels in NY Harbor.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After the Slocum disaster, which scored the largest death toll of any single event in NYC until the September 11th attacks in 2001, the Coast Guard instituted regulations and rules for all shipping in NY Harbor which they enforce with military discipline. It’s why you hear an announcement on every ferry trip telling you where floatation devices can be found onboard, and why private pleasure and fishing vessels in the harbor are often “pulled over” by USCG for safety inspections.

It’s also one of the arguments I make when talking politics, with my friends who identify as “Conservative,” in defense of what they describe as “job killing regulatory oversight.” There is a staggering amount of inefficiency and an abundance of stupid rules in Government, but we also haven’t had anything like a General Slocum disaster in what… 114 years?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Given the focus point of my historical interests, which can be somewhat summed up as “maritime industrial history of NYC from the colonial to WW2 periods,” there’s a lot of horror stories which I’ve stumbled across. 95% of the environmental issues in NYC were caused by unfettered and unregulated industrial operations which, prior to 1972 and the Federal Clean Water and Clean Air acts, had zero obligation not to dump acid into rivers and streams or pulse metric shit tons of poison into the air. A disaster can occur in any era, but the needless deaths of 1,021 women and children onboard an excursion boat leaving from lower Manhattan to attend a picnic on Long Island? Unthinkable in the modern era.

All that is due to a regulatory regime for the maritime industry which was largely created and coded into law by Republican Party politicians led by Teddy Roosevelt. Dump acid into the water, or spew sulphur compounds into the sky? Also impossible thanks to a Republican named Richard Nixon. Give credit where credit is due, I say. I also question why the politics of the modern day has members of the same political party chipping away at the achievements of their historical forebears who ensured that you could just mindlessly walk onto a ferry without thinking about the General Slocum


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Written by Mitch Waxman

June 15, 2018 at 1:00 pm

business section

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Everything backfires, all the time.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After crossing over that primal mystery through which even thought cannot penetrate which are the waters of New York Harbor, and arriving on… Staten Island… one got busy with the tripod and camera. I was in pursuit of some iteration of the shot above, which I would mention I’m not 100% satisfied by, depicting the whole shebang visible from St. George. Jersey City in the left of the shot, Manhattan in the middle, and the East River on the right. This is just about twenty minutes after sunset, incidentally. I plan on heading back out there when the skies, and the stars, are right.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot I was most happy with, and which sort of made the entire journey to… Staten Island… worth it was the one above, which is a long exposure looking westwards towards the Kill Van Kull. That concrete thingamabob is the 2004 “Postcards” 911 memorial, if your curious, commemorating the memories of the 274 Staten Islanders who lost their lives in the 1993 and 2001 World Trade Center attacks. The Postcards monument is shaped like a combination of two wings and a pair of hands praying, and there are profile sculptures of the victims inside it with their names, birth dates, and where they worked.

I, for one, don’t want to be remembered for where I worked but rather for where I lived.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Arriving back in Manhattan, my pathway home involved the MTA, and wouldn’t you know it… It took close to forty minutes for this work train to clear itself out of the South Ferry station, which in turn allowed the “R” line to transit through from Brooklyn and get me back to Astoria. Life is a joy, in a city which never sleeps.

As I’ve said many times, the “A” in “MTA” is for “Adventure.”


Upcoming Tours and Events

June 9th – Exploring Long Island City – with NY Adventure Club.

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?

Tickets and more details
here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

frightened servants

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So above, so below.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Whilst riding a big orange boat across the harbor, one recent and banal evening, litanies of wonder rolled past the lens. A United States Marine Corps V-22 Osprey was flying circuits around Governors Island, tugboats frolicked about in the warm light offered by the unoccluded burning thermonuclear eye of God itself, and the Shining City of Manhattan glowed. Onboard the Staten Island Ferry, riding towards its terminus at St. George on… Staten Island… one was surrounded by European tourists. Many of them bore an aspect which I did not like, as they seemed sly and sinister, and several showed the scars of old world pestilences. The chorus of languages they spoke all seemed guttural and base, not lilting or wholesome as in the manner of English spoken with a Brooklyn accent. Overall, their choices of clothing were mainly what offended me… the cargo shorts and polyester shirts… the bandannas… the knap sacks with too many zippers and cords to be functional…

A humble narrator was, of course, wearing garments nearly indistinguishable from rags. My garb was not unlike that of some exhumed corpse – threadbare, smelly, torn, battered. Just like me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Marines were flying circuits, as mentioned, no doubt as some sort of display during the annual Fleet Week event during which examples of the military might of the Nation is displayed in NY Harbor. The V-22, as I understand it, has vertical take off capabilities. When the propulsion units are in the orientation pictured above, the plane operates in a manner similar to a helicopter, but the pods can be rotated ninety degrees to provide thrust during conventional flying postures. Apparently this has been quite an engineering and operational challenge for the folks who work with this first of its class model of plane, but they seem to have worked out a lot of the kinks.

Whether there was any esoteric machinery in the V-22 scanning the bottom of the harbor for signs of those said to lurk down below, who can say?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You’d have to imagine that were there a group of amphibian fish/frog men living in the sediments of NY Harbor, they’d likely have neighborhoods down there somewhat analogous – class distinction wise – to the ones you find up on the islands. The upscale Deep Ones of the Upper East Side, the working class population of those who dwelleth in the below at Hells Gate, the tragically hip battrachians of North Brooklyn, the shimmering horrors at Coney Island Creek, and so on.


Upcoming Tours and Events

June 9th – Exploring Long Island City – with NY Adventure Club.

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?

Tickets and more details
here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 6, 2018 at 11:00 am

merciful deletions

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War Planes in Manhattan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has recently learned that the mature human body’s largest organ – the skinvelope or integumentary system – weighs approximately twelve to fifteen percent of your body weight – and it also really depends whose skinvelope we’re talking about when weighing the dermis. Personally, I’m naturally pallid and spotty, and a humble narrator’s skinvelope is delicate. I’m highly vulnerable to sudden tears and punctures, blistering, abrasions of all sorts, and at any given time there’s at least a few microbiotal blooms going on somewhere in the roughly twenty two feet of skinvelope which I keep onboard. One is also given to receiving painful radiation burns, if paused too long in the emanations of the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself, so I like to keep moving and walk in the shade whenever possible.

The Marines were in town for Fleet Week, as I discovered while in pursuit of shadowed cover. They had v-22 Ospreys with them, which were pretty cool. The Marines are famously thick skinned and leather necked, skinvelope wise.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My path had an intended destination on this particular evening, an anomaly for one such as myself, which was on… Staten Island…

The big orange boat at the Lower Manhattan Whitehall Terminal was, as in most encounters with it, well – the big orange boat was absurdly on time as always (which is actually true, The Staten Island Ferry has a 96% on time rate). In an ever changing world of disturbing social trends and the constant braying of news reports describing horrible urgencies and dire portent, the very last thing which a humble narrator clings to as efficacy of some possible future in which everything isn’t horrible all the time anymore is that the Staten Island Ferry still runs on time.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It would seem that the current occupant of the White House was in town as well, a theoretical dictum advanced by the presence of a phalanx of cops, soldiers, and tough looking guys wearing ear pieces, sunglasses, and black suits guarding one of the Presidential helicopters in Lower Manhattan. Two of the V-22’s were present as well.

The big orange boat offered a nice view of the scene as we slid greasily out of dock in Lower Manhattan and began the journey to… Staten Island…


Upcoming Tours and Events

June 9th – Exploring Long Island City – with NY Adventure Club.

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?

Tickets and more details
here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 5, 2018 at 11:00 am

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