The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Pittsburgh

absurdly slight

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Friday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One awoke at the appointed time, bathed, drank a coffee and headed over in the pre dawn hours to Pittsburgh’s Amtrak Station. The train was scheduled to depart at 7:30 a.m. and as is my habit – I was there an hour early. About 7:15, boarding began and the Amtrak conductor indicated which car they wanted me in.

It seems that the way they handle things on Amtrak is that they group passengers together according to where they’re going. Given that I was heading all the way to Moynihan/Penn Station in NYC, that meant I was in the last car on the train. One settled into a seat and got comfortable.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I wasn’t terribly well prepared – creature comforts wise – for the 8 hour trip, which meant that I was going to be getting my sustenance from Amtrak’s cafe car. They have pretty decent coffee, and a variety of high fat and sugar content offerings. Cakes and candies, juice and soda, even booze. Truth be told, the offerings reminded me a lot of the crap that I’d jam into my face hole back when I used to work overnight shifts in midtown Manhattan. I stuck with the coffee, mostly, but this time around instead of the Amtrak hamburger, I had the Amtrak hot dog. My advice? Go for the burger. It’s gross, but less so than the hot dog.

I spent my journey staring out the window again. This time, however, I used a piece of my homemade camera gear – a foam collar for my lens – to shoot random images out the window as the train ran along the tracks.

All of the shots gathered using this method have been given a different crop ratio than I normally use. It’s to distinguish them from properly composed photos, as these are basically “run and guns.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I sat in a weird posture with my torso twisted towards the window, the camera supported by the left arm while the right one worked the shutter. My head was turned in opposition to the torso, looking ahead in the direction the train was traveling. The camera had the foam collar on the lens, and the collar was pressed directly against the glass while avoiding having the actual lens make contact. When it looked like something interesting was coming up, I’d just start shooting. The exposures were something like 1/5,000th of a second, so as to freeze the scene at a fairly high ISO. Amtrak’s windows are generally pretty dirty, and colored with a reddish brown tint. This makes for a challenging environment when you’re developing them, back in the photoshop application at home.

Saying all that, I really enjoy the randomness, and getting the sort of views that you normally can’t reach.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Wish I could tell you about that power plant in the second shot, the canalized waterway in the third, or the bridge pictured above. Doing so would negate the point of the exercise, however, and add a meaningless layer of trivia into the effort.

These are shots, by the way, not photographs. The latter definition – at least by my way of thinking – indicates “photographs” as being something consciously composed and offered in a manner that makes a statement of some kind, whereas shots are entirely random and are more of a technical exercise than anything else.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Somewhere down the road, this particular technique will come in handy when I’m in a position where I have to get the shot or the photograph despite the situational challenges – which is why I engage in the exercise. All of my low light/night time shooting over the last few years has allowed me to develop a set of skills which allow me to leave the flash gun at home, even when I’m shooting indoors. Rail shots like these have taught me how to capture detail while shooting through a dirty rust brown colored window from a vehicle moving at 50 mph. That’ll come in handy, someday, somehow.

That’s the Altoona Horseshoe curve pictured above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We rolled through several rail yards on our course eastwards. Pictured above are Norfolk and Southern locomotives. I saw lots of rail, lots of dams and bridges, and lots of people who have festooned their homes with Trump flags. I saw one building, which seemed to be the offices of a trailer park, which had affixed a two story tall banner with Trump’s face silk screened on it facing the railway with the screed “miss me yet?”.

Nothing matters, nobody cares.

More 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

January 28, 2022 at 11:00 am

Posted in AMTRAK, railroad

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bulky leather

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Thursday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Boy oh boy, did a humble narrator suffer in pursuance of getting the shots in today’s post. Standing on the edge of Pittsburgh’s Mt. Washington after the atmospheric temperature tumbled thirty degrees in two hours and despite a sustained thirty mile an hour wind began painting my back, one nevertheless stuck it out through sunset.

For an idea of how high up over the Golden Triangle of Downtown Pittsburgh and the three rivers I was, that line between the orange sunset light and the foreground is the sun shadow of Mt. Washington.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I had been planning for this spate of shooting all weekend. That plan got thrown out the window due to the high wind speed, which forced me set up the tripod quite low to the ground due to the force of air shaking the rig. My original intent was to use a filter to “slow down” the sunset shot and render the waters as a mirror.

One managed to pull that off in one or two of these, but it soon became apparent that this was an entirely futile pursuit and I changed gears.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned yesterday, I wasn’t prepared – garment wise – for this sort of cold and wind. My fingers and toes were numb, and I was having trouble operating the discreet control buttons on the camera.

I was also fairly terrified that a blast of wind would carry the camera and tripod away and over the side of Mt. Washington.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As soon as the light show offered by the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself ended, one decided to just head back to the shelter of the rented AirBnb room and settle in for an early night. I was hoping to stick it out in the location of these shots until the City lights came on, but the wind and cold really was becoming horrific at this point.

I broke down the rig, changed lenses, and set the camera back up for handheld shooting mode.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was about a mile and a half back to the room, but I decided to be lazy and call for a cab on one of my rideshare accounts. While waiting to get picked up, I kept an eye on the scene. I felt thwarted.

Naturally, just as the car arrived…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s when the city lights snapped on. I just cannot win, I tell you.

More tomorrow.


“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

January 27, 2022 at 11:00 am

Posted in AMTRAK, railroad

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amidst tangles

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Wednesday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s only one bridge in the entire country named after a visual artist, it’s in Pittsburgh, and it’s pictured above. That’s the Seventh Street/Andy Warhol Bridge spanning the Allegheny River, which opened in 1907. Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself crossed it in the rain, on foot. It was all very romantic, and a bit soggy.

There are two other somewhat identical bridges neighboring this one on the Allegheny which are of the same vintage. They are named for Baseball player Roberto Clemente and author Rachel Carson.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Now, as I’ve mentioned in the past – it ain’t all sunshine and handjobs here in Western Pennsylvania. There’s all sorts of ugly you can encounter. A nasty history of segregation and “race stuff,” lots and lots of junkies (opioid epidemic), and crime. The local police have a national reputation for being heavy handed, and you’re at the ideological crossroads of the toxicity of National Political Party politics. A white supremacist shot up a synagogue here in Pittsburgh not too long ago. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are generally left leaning, whereas the center of the state is fairly Trumpist.

Saying that, they really do seem to have graffiti under control here. You don’t see garbage floating in the rivers. All of the bridges I’ve encountered here have combined bike and pedestrian paths, and whereas Our Lady and myself were moving around in areas which the Pittsburghers we talked to raised an eyebrow at and described to us as “sketchy,” we never felt unsafe. As it turns out, our AirBNB was at the edge of one of these feared “danger” zones, a neighborhood called Beltzhoover. Beltzhoover actually reminded me a lot of the sort of neighborhoods in which I’d lived in the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, except for all the nearly vertical hills and valleys. There ain’t no “flatbush,” here’s.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of our rented room for the long weekend, Our Lady of the Pentacle’s flight time was nearing and soon after clicking the shutter button for the shot above, we had to head back to Mt. Washington for her to gather up her traveling kit and call for a cab to take her to the Pittsburgh International Airport for the flight back home.

As mentioned in prior posts, I’d be taking Amtrak home the next morning and had been planning on a full evening of photographic pursuits. Pittsburgh’s legendarily volatile climate had other plans in store for me, however.

As a note, you’ll notice a building sticking up in the distance behind the bridge’s right side pier superstructure in the shot above. That’s the one that the fancy pants restaurant I mentioned yesterday is housed in, and it’s directly behind the spot where I was heading for my big night of photographic pursuit.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After a goodbye kiss was enjoyed and Our Lady was on her way, I was on my own again. My first destination was one of the inclines on Mt. Washington, where I was happy to see the rain clouds and stormy weather blowing out to the north and east. I think it was east, at least. My plan involved capturing dusk and sunset, and despite what the meteorological forecast was predicting – proper night time darkness with the city all lit up like a scarlet woman.

My desire was to execute a series of long exposure tripod shots, but the weather was not impressed by my plans. A wicked bit of wind began to kick up, and the temperature began dropping. There was an actual whistling sound being caused by the air flowing around the camera.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That heavy wind was buffeting the camera, and several of my shots were ruined by the motion thereby introduced. I had to change my plan, from long exposures to ones that were significantly shorter. That’s part of the deal, when you’re standing behind a camera. Got to adapt.

I wasn’t ready for this sort of cold, though. This was early December, mind you, and winter hadn’t really set in yet, nor was I physically acclimatized to deep cold yet. Additionally, I had no long underwear or heavy gloves with me, and I was just wearing the usual “mitch suit” with a hoodie sweatshirt and the filthy black raincoat. This particular wintry uniform works great for me until the temperature begins to dip below thirty, whereupon I layer up with thermals and all that. I was naked under my clothes, which sounds kind of obvious when you say it out loud.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Before long, the atmospheric temperature had plummeted to just 21 degrees, and the wind had kicked up at the same time. Sustained 10-20 mph winds, with gusts of 30-40 mph, were now on the menu. By the time I had returned to the Duquesne Heights location I had found the night before, the only words on my lips were “fuck me, it’s freezing.”

An additional bit of circumstance is that I was standing on the veritable edge of a nearly thousand foot prominence overlooking the three rivers, and the wind was coming up the hill from behind and then dropping over the edge down to the water below. The physics of that slope increased the wind speed at the edge where I was, and meant that I also needed to vouchsafe against my camera getting toppled and smashing down to the ground – or worse still – getting blown over the edge of Mt. Washington.

I got some of the shots I wanted, sort of, but you’re going to have to wait for tomorrow to see them.


“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

January 26, 2022 at 11:00 am

Posted in AMTRAK, railroad

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shocked edicts

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Tuesday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Apparently, the section of Pittsburgh referred to as “the North Side” used to be its own municipal entity until 1907 – dubbed as either the Borough of Allegheny or Allegheny City depending on when you were doing the dubbing. There’s a terrific amount of historic buildings on this side of town, and notably in the 27 acre “Mexican War Streets” historic district. The National Aviary and several other interesting institutions are located nearby. I got to see a very unhappy looking Condor when we walked by.

I had my friend – Kevin Walsh of Forgotten-NY fame – speaking in my head while I was shooting these. Kevin would go absolutely gaga in this area, I kept on thinking. This sort of heterogenous Victorian and Edwardian era development would very much be his sort of jam.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pittsburgh is climatologically notorious, due to its topography. The three rivers, coupled with the steep valleys and ridges it’s built into, as well as its geographic relationship to the Appalachia Mountain range and the faraway Great Lakes creates a volatile and quite changeable atmosphere hereabouts. Last time I was visiting, it was pouring rain about three miles away from me while I was standing under a blue sky with direct sun. Go figure.

This particular morning, it was drizzling. Occasionally it would start to “proper rain,” but it was mostly drizzle. Our Lady of the Pentacle is British, so she felt right at home.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Didn’t really matter to me, as part of my travel kit is an umbrella, and I notoriously wear a filthy black raincoat all the time.

It’s actually a pretty great umbrella, by the way. Bought a $25 folding one that was recommended by NY Times’ Wirecutter people. Lifetime replacement guarantee is offered for the Repel Folding Umbrella, with an automatic open and close switch on the handle, it weighs virtually nothing, and tying it onto my camera bag is a breeze.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our Lady of the Pentacle was extremely interested in seeing Randyland. Randy Gilson is a local artist who has… well, here’s the Wikipedia article about Randyland.

I couldn’t help but think about how the NYC political and real estate establishment would go out of their way to eradicate and replace this area in the name of “affordable housing” if it was located in Brooklyn or Queens. The bulldozers would have long ago demolished this area and replaced it with soulless mirror box rhombuses, full of tiny studio apartments, which were cast roughly at the sky. There’d be a sign saying “Randyland used to be here” erected by a nonprofit.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“Stealing the Sky” is the title of a book I’ll never write about Long Island City and big real estate in the early 21st century. It starts at the Pratt University and NYU urban planning department meetings in the early 1990’s, and ends when the last condo building goes up along Newtown Creek. They’re not even close to being done yet, incidentally, the dynastic real estate companies.

Nothing matters, and nobody cares.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our Lady was satisfied with having witnessed Randyland and the Mexican War Streets historic district on the north side, and we began shlepping back towards the city center. We still had a few hours before the preparation for her trip to the airport to begin, and decided to walk in the rain for a bit. We stopped off for a coffee, then got eyeballed by a group of sketchy guys smoking weed in a bus shelter, and continued on our way. She said to me “they were noticing the camera.” I said “I know, but I’m not worried, I’m from Brooklyn.”

Seriously, when we leave our City and go to other places, it’s like being a tiger walking amongst hamsters. Ich bin ein Brooklyner.

More tomorrow.


“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

January 25, 2022 at 11:00 am

Posted in AMTRAK, railroad

Tagged with ,

dawning love

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Monday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily, I thought to gather these shots after eating dinner. Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself had enjoyed a weekend away in Pennsylvania’s Pittsburgh and our marquis event meal was at a white table cloth restaurant on the prominence of Mount Washington – a ritzy section which I believe to be called “Duquesne Heights.” Fiendishly expensive, but worth every penny, the restaurant where we ate was set up in a structure perched on what seemed to be the highest point of Mt. Washington. They had floor to ceiling windows, and I’m told the views were epic as I sipped an “Old Fashioned” and shoveled steak into my face hole. I would have noticed them, but I was gazing lovingly at Our Lady. After dinner, I begged indulgence, and Our Lady graciously allowed a few minutes for me to get busy with the camera.

I try not impinge on such evenings with my obsessive need to photograph everything I see… but… just look at that view…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The entire reason we were able to get a table at this particular establishment on short notice was that what seemed like the population of the entire City of Pittsburgh was either within, or focused upon, Heinz Stadium, where the Pittsburgh Steelers were playing that night. This shot was my “money shot” of the day, although despite calling it that I didn’t and haven’t made a dime off the image.

As mentioned in posts last week, our plan for the weekend’s ending was to divide and conquer on our way back to NYC, traveling home using different modes. She was going to be leaving the following afternoon, a Monday, and I was meant to board an early morning Amtrak train on Tuesday morning. My plan, therefore, was to spend Monday night in a bacchanal of photographic pursuit and therefore I was trying to restrain myself while we were still keeping company.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our Lady is long suffering, however, but nevertheless allowed me about a half hour’s time to “do my thing.” This shot looks up the Allegheny River.

I had set up the tripod, and was doing my landscape thing. That means low ISO settings coupled with a narrow lens aperture and hyperfocal lensing. It depends on the lens, ultimately, but what “hyperfocal” means is that anything sitting between a certain distance in the foreground and optical infinity will be in sharp focus. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but there you go – technical jargon. This is why she’s “long suffering,” if you were wondering.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What I was actually doing while getting these shots was planning out what I wanted to do the next night when I didn’t feel any time pressure or was worrying that Our Lady was growing bored or impatient with my pursuits. It was a good plan.

I’ll talk about the way that went “ass over tits” for me later on in the week, but for now… I’m glad I got these when I did.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a weird statue found at this “POV,” depicting whom I believe to be George Washington squatting and staring at a Native American guy who is also staring and squatting. Probably something “French and Indian War” related, given that that’s a significant moment in Pittsburgh’s history. I mentally pronounce “Duquesne” as “Dookesknee” so I’m the wrong guy to guess as to the sculptor’s messaging. I’ll bet the intentions of the sculptor’s meaning and intent was entirely different from the way we see or read this sort of representation today. The smart thing to do for the Native American would have been to slaughter the Europeans as quickly as possible and never allow them any further beachheads, but that’s hindsight.

Anyway, we were stuffed and wanted to head back to the AirBNB we were staying at, so I broke down the rig and went back to hand held night shooting mode with this shot.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I felt pretty confident about my Monday night plan, after all, and looked forward to “doing my thing.” Vainglory.

We headed back to the room, settled in, and watched a bit of that Beatles documentary on Disney+. I soon lost consciousness, and hallucinated wildly for about seven hours. Upon regaining my composure the next morning, we set out for one last set of Pittsburgh adventures and explorations. More tomorrow.


“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

January 24, 2022 at 11:00 am

Posted in AMTRAK, railroad

Tagged with ,

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