Photosbycate Weblog

A Photo Essay Blog

Archive for the tag “urban”

They’re Gritty, They’re Grimey…They’re “Dirtaaaay”

Enough of the pretty flowers, leaves and other things, time to get back down to the street level schmutz. The day after Thanksgiving was cold with biting winds as I prowled beneath the tracks of the N & #7 trains at Queesboro Plaza; the mass transit hub of Long Island City Queens, capturing the urban grungescape. Since it was so cold and the sun was playing  hide and seek behind thick grey clouds I stayed pretty much near the train tracks (mostly to make a quick get-a-way back home when I could no longer feel my fingers and toes) and I ambled only a few blocks in any direction.

There was some construction going on and once again my photographic endeavors were challenged by chain link fencing and plywood walls forcing me to search until I found an opening or chink in the perimeter no matter how small. The plywood walls had diamond-shaped viewing cutouts but, they were covered with a dirty, smudgy plastic and although at first disappointed, I found they added an interesting effect to the images. The chain-link fencing was much smaller than normal and I had an eye-crossing time trying to focus through the spaces. At times I just gave up and used the fencing as an abstract pattern fronting the image.

I left in any normal grain or noise in the images and used an HDR program which, added additional grain and this combination helped me attain that “dirtay” look.

Enjoy the this urban stroll but, put on warm coat.


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I have new toys!

The iPhone 5C and the Olloclip 3-1 lens kit.  Earlier in the week I took a few quick test shots with the phone, without the lenses, from the Ditmars train station platform as the sun was rising on Astoria, and at home using just the macro lens, (I will work more with this lens when the spring flowers are in bloom. )

Yesterday however, was grocery shopping day and since I would be walking up Ditmars I took the lenses with me and immediately fell in love with the fish-eye. For the next 2 1/2 hours, the shopping completely forgotten, I walked the neighborhood zigzagging the streets and avenues making friends with it.  We had a marvelous time. I felt like a necromancer looking at the world through my crystal ball. It took me a few shots to figure out how not to get my feet and/or shadow in the photos. This, I resolved by either getting in very close to my subject, creating terrific distortion or by pointing the phone upwards towards the sky which squeezed the landscape into a perfect ball.

I noticed that only the very center of the image is sharp and that the outer edges are a soft blur. I liked this effect especially when viewed on a larger screen when the images were downloaded. The quality is grainy but the color is spot on and the lens performed a lot better than I had thought it would.

With this lens I was able to take the ordinary and even the ugly and make it extraordinary. Common place things like a pile of dirty snow, became a piece of modern art, as did an old payphone that was stuffed with crumble used coffee cups. Cars and buildings ballooned out in cartoon shapes and telephone poles and street lights warped like soft wax candles.

I hope you enjoy this cock-eyed view of a sunny Saturday afternoon.

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Urban Ice & Snow

I was up early on Saturday morning and after a hot strong mug of coffee to jump-start my brain I bundled up and walked out into the frigid morning light of a cold winter’s day. This was a post snow storm walk around Astoria photographing ice and snow as it formed and lay on the urban landscape. The sun had only fully risen an hour before and sat low on the horizon trying to wake up but,  its rays were bright and welcoming giving off a bit of warmth on this 11 degree day.

I was particular in looking for and photographing ice and as I walked up Ditmars Boulevard my eyes scanned the scene searching, tracking until a sharp shard of frozen water was found hanging from window ledges, roof tops and car fenders; I photographed them all.  I found late autumn flowers and berries frozen and shriveled and wrapped in a mantle of white snow. Bits of Christmas and some summer memories were hidden beneath a thick blanket of cold but glistened in the sun’s shine.

I came upon a laundromat whose giant steam vent was pouring forth white clouds of hot vapor into the brisk blue sky. It seemed everywhere I looked I saw a frosty abstract sculpture.  Even the dirty snow plastered against the side of a jeep looked beautiful in its shape and texture.  A tiny wave of snow about to crest, icy skeletal fingers beneath a car, a dried out vine crawling up, up to the sky, the rough edges of discarded debris smoothed out under a creamy white cover, all were now pieces of art on display.

Into the shadow beneath the arch of the New York Connecting Railroad I walked. Cut into the sides of the walls are vertical slits there to release trapped water from the tracks above.  The water had been gushing forth when it was seized by the intense cold and frozen in mid splash.  And as the water kept coming each new wave froze on top of the previous creating smooth glass like abstract pieces of  white and blue polar art.

Old Man Winter stayed with me all morning then kissed the tip of my nose and pinched my cheeks red and sent me on my way back home.

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The Muse and I

The past few weeks I was involved in family photography which was fun and very gratifying but, I needed to get back into my urban groove.

When I walked out of the apartment this past Sunday, I had no specific idea of what I wanted to shoot. So, I let my photographic Muse provide the inspiration. As I walked through the neighborhood my eyes began to focus on objects that contained vivid color, striking contrasts (i.e., a bower of red roses arching over a row of grey garbage cans; love it!), grunge, interesting juxtapositions, repeating patterns and rough textures or had an element of whimsy.

I pointed the lens skyward, poked it into gardens and alleyways, under tunnels and train tracks, through fences and bushes and over walls. I walked up and down the blocks, scanning the urban landscape for subjects and proud of the cultural diversity of this Queens neighborhood depicted in murals by local graffiti artists.

The Muse was open to everything, encouraging me to be objective in choosing the imagery I was creating. We had a terrific time the Muse and I, strolling the streets of Astoria capturing the eclectic nuances that make up my urban home town.

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Industrial Vistas Via the Pulaski Bridge

Last Saturday, I meandered around Long Island City perusing the urban landscape for interesting and different subject matter to photograph and came upon the pedestrian entrance to the Pulaski Bridge on 11th Street.  This was just what I was looking for; a cityscape with some earthy gritty aspects. This past summer I sailed under this bridge on an excursion up Newtown Creek and wrote about it in a previous post Saving Newtown Creek but, I had never walked across from Long Island City Queens to Greenpoint Brooklyn, both heavily industrialized sections that are having a resurgence as residential and commercial hot spots.

The walkway is narrow and enclosed on one side by a high chain link fence that bows outward and keeps people from falling or jumping off into the highly polluted creek or the entrace to the Queens Midtown Tunnel.  I was fascinated by the bend and curve of the fencing and how when photographed at a certain angle pulls the eye straight into a visual vortex. The other side is the highway, with low concrete and metal dividers separating the pedestrian and/or bicyclist from the vehicular traffic zooming in and out of  the two boroughs. Since this is a draw bridge there is  unobstructed viewing in the middle where the giant zipper like grid comes together when the bridge is closed. The bridge at times would undulate when a monstrously heavy truck would go roaring by unnerving me as I straddled the “zipper” trying to take a photograph and not get tossed into the traffic.  How I managed to get a sharp image of it I’ll never know. There are access stairways at various points along the bridge that also offer open views.

The view from the bridge is striking with a range of urban subject matter from three boroughs; Brooklyn to the left, Queens to the right and Manhattan straight up the middle.  The shoreline of both Long Island City and Greenpoint are lined with old and new factories, graffiti covered warehouses, parking lots, garages, and docks for small boats and barges. Photo fodder for industrial photographers like myself.  Further inland are the neighborhood homes, apartment buildings, commercial buildings, schools, steepled churches, local restaurants, businesses and cafes. Looking up the creek and out toward the East River is Manhattan with the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings scraping the sky. The bridge also crosses over the tracks of  the Long Island Rail Road and I took a quick run down to street level to capture the rusting metal and dried wood of the tracks stretching toward the “big city.”

The highway had some interesting urban subject matter as well and I turned my camera’s lens on any vehicle that had a bright color or a large size passing under the dark red iron work arches spanning the roadway. The view on this side of the bridge is of huge advertising billboards, big yellow traffic lights, red and white traffic stop arms and matching steam stacks of the Keyspan Energy plant and the ice blue Citicorp Building; Long Island City’s first skyscraper.

Throughout the day the sky was a whirl of soft smooth white clouds against a cyan blue canvas adding an intensity to the image compositions both in color and black and white. A picture perfect day above the urban menagerie of Queens and Brooklyn.

Enjoy the images below.

Seeing Art in a Desolate Landscape

A few weeks ago, as I was walking along 2nd Street in Long Island City on the East River, I wandered into a wide desolate urban landscape completely devoid of its former structures. I was thrilled. As I stood there gazing at the remaining piles of dirt, rock, brick, splintered wood, rust, and left over construction equipment I let my artistic muse take over.

Blue skies and puffy white clouds, a tranquil river and the Manhattan skyline in the distance made a perfect contrasting backdrop to the images I was about to create. As I looked around me at the broken fragments of another time and industry I saw sculptures. Twisted, mangled, sharp, dusty, dirty abstract city sculptures.

There were large iron beams bent and corroded to a deep crusty red, looking like giant pieces of bacon frying in the sun. Hills of dark brown dirt lined up like a little mountain range, with just the tips of the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings peeking up between the valleys. Scattered all over the ground and pushed into piles were huge chunks of gleaming pyrite, boulders, pieces of metal and glass. Looming over me were mixtures of sand and soil bulldozed into cliffs fringed with hairs of green grass. A tumble of heavy concrete dividers tossed like sticks in the dirt next to a patch of dried mud cracked in a mosaic design. A weird and wonderful sculpture garden.

Everywhere I turned, I saw in this lonely landscape bits and pieces of  buildings from a century past but, in my mind’s eye I saw on this same spot a new group of modern 21st century buildings that will soon stand upon the shores of the East River in this boro of Queens, NY.


Saving Newtown Creek

Last Sunday, was a picture perfect day and with camera in hand I went on a most unusual but fascinating boat exploration of  Newtown Creek  as part of a Hidden Harbor tour.  As you know I have a fascination with urban grunge and this trip gave me ample opportunity to capture images of  industrial exploitation that would not have been possible on land. Our tour guide and narrator was Mitch Waxman, who is a blogger, photographer and historian for the Newtown Creek Alliance.

The tour group met at the NY Water Taxi “stand” at Pier 17 and the boat left at 11:00am beginning our three hour voyage up the East River with expansive vista’s of  South Street Seaport and the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges before moving into Newtown Creek.

Once on the creek the scenery was not your picture-post-card views unless you consider toxic waste one of them. Newtown Creek unfortunately has the undesirable distinction to be one of the most heavily used bodies of water in the Port of New York and New Jersey and one of the most polluted industrial sites in America. The water is a noxious mix of  discarded toxins,  gallons of spilled oil,  and raw sewage from New York City’s sewer system! You would need to wear a hazmat suit to go for a swim and would be considered insane for doing so.

By now you are no doubt thinking why in hell would anyone want to take a “tour” like this? Well, for one thing it is a piece of urban history in my own back yard, so to speak.  Secondly, it has all of the grit and grime an urban photographer could possibly ask for.  But, most importantly it opens ones eyes to the reality of what can happen when commerce and industry are allowed to run amok without any ecological accountability.

Newtown Creek is bordered on either side by Greenpoint Brooklyn and Long Island City Queens.  Standing on the stern of the boat the Whale Creek Fuel Tanks loom over the landscape on the Brooklyn side to my left. On the Queens side to my right were huge mountains of crushed shredded metal and plastic, once cars, waiting to be loaded on barges.  In the distance is the skyline of Manhattan, a mirage of shinning gleaming buildings.  Warehouses old and new, abandoned sheds and small factories, rusted and decaying building equipment, tools, machinery, trucks, cars, small boats, rubbish, and litter mixed in with the weeds and wild grasses are the somber hallmarks of this shoreline.

During those three hours I was all over that boat trying to keep the glaring sun behind me and create images depicting the natural and unnatural scenery.  Although the water was a dark yellow-brown miasma that assaulted my nose and eyes, I was able to find some beauty in the water’s abstract reflections.

The Pulaski Bridge opened wide its arms in welcome as we passed underneath and the Kosciusko bridge added a quiet gentility as we slowly sailed past. I could not help wondering as I looked all around of what this waterway was like before the European settlers arrived and the original inhabitants swam, fished and lived along the shores.  Is it possible that we could bring the land and water back to life once again? Thanks to the inspiring work and dedication of the members of the Newtown Creek Alliance this dream someday, might come true.

Stay In Focus,


Embellising on Nature’s Accomplishments

And what better accomplishment could nature have done but create the Rose.  I’ve mentioned in previous posts of the magnificent flowers in the gardens of Astoria Queens, especially the roses along Ditmars Boulevard. Now, in this very warm and humid mid spring the roses have been outdoing themselves in size, color and variety. Everyday they bow their beautiful fragrant heads to me as I walked along to touch, smell and admire their natural graces.

Some colors are vibrant and some muted and  I’ve taken a liberty, with what Mother Nature has done, and added  a darker urban twist to the rose with the help of post processing software and my artistic imagination.  I brought out the delicate detail of the curl, fold and ruffle of the petal; the line of the vein in the leaf and the gentleness of the sprouting bud with fine grain. I added a shimmer or a shine to soften or blurred to a bright opacity and pulled out just enough color to draw the eye inward.

I hope you enjoy my little embellishments.

Rainy Spring Sunday

Today,  was a wonderful quiet lazy rainy day spent doing just what I wanted with no demands on my time.  I curled up on the couch with the windows open, music playing on the CD player and reading a favorite book on my kindle.  I took intermittent naps between chapters and occasionally put the story aside and turned down the music to listen to the birds chirping, the rain pattering on the new green leaves and taking long drafts of the sweet moist air that blew in through the windows.

At one point it really started to pour and I sat up and looked out the window watching the water rushing down the street along the curb like a tiny wild river. The view outside, framed by my window was peaceful and natural and very, very green. It was time for a few photos.

My favorite place to take photos from my apartment is in the kitchen. The kitchen window is a little wider than the living room windows and the sill a little deeper which allows me to rest my elbows as I kneel on the floor in front of the open window. The first thing I see from this window is my trusty little red fire hydrant that has been my model on several occasions when nature has made it impossible to go outside to shoot. Today it was glistening with moisture sitting on the curb watching all manner of vehicles pass it as they  hurried to homes warm and dry.

I zoomed up into the trees as the heavy rains streamed down and poured off the leaves. As the lighting changed so did the colors of the leaves changing from a deep blue-green to a bright yellow-green. I slowed the shutter speed to show the rain drops in long stretched white streaks.  I pointed my camera down to the grass under my windows to capture the clear crystal drops of rain sitting on the clover between the blades of grass.

I enjoyed this April shower and the beautiful photos is helped me to create and I hope you enjoy them too!

Early Urban Spring

Before I write of my adventures yesterday I would like to announce that I am now a contributing photographer to the new local Queens publication BORO Magazine. This magazine is all about the art and cultural lifestyles of Astoria, Long Island City and Sunnyside and includes dozens of restaurant, business and event listings from this small but fun section of the borough of Queens.  Every two weeks I will be submitting five images from my wanderings in Astoria and Long Island City with captions and a little blurb on why I took them. Click on the link above to view the magazine and click on the Arts tab to view my work. 

Yesterday, was a chilly overcast day and I had all the intentions of  devoting my energies to doing domestic chores.  As I was dropping off my laundry I was struck with how vivid the colors of the newly sprouted buds and blooms looked in the diffused grey light.  When I got back home I packed my back pack with a plastic bag, a dry cloth, an extra battery and an umbrella in case of rain, put the camera around my neck and away I went. I figured that since I had to go grocery shopping anyway I would take the camera with me and get a few shots along the way as I walked up Ditmars Boulevard.

Three hours and many photos later I arrived home with some pretty interesting spring urban photography and no groceries.  I only came home because it had started to pour.

I walked up 76th street toward 21st Avenue because on my way back from the laundry I spotted a gorgeous Magnolia tree just starting to bloom which had deep dark purple blooms on it and also a bush decorated with plastic Easter Eggs in someones front yard. From there I walked up 21st Avenue weaving back and forth between various streets taking photos of any plant life with color. These first spring blooms including the Magnolias are at their most colorful in this early part of the season but are fleeting and fragile which is why I wanted to get out and capture that exquisite color as soon as possible.

There was a profusion of  delicate white and pink Cherry Blossoms along every street, dark pink Azaleas, purple and white  Magnolias, blindingly bright yellow Daffodils and Forsythia,  Blue Bonnets and Hyacinths,  scarlet and pure white petal flowers and all shades of green buds hanging from the branches of the trees. All of the flowers and bushes were in someones front or back yard and I enjoyed using the wrought iron fencing or brink walls of the houses as back drops for the images giving them that urban twist that I am known for in my photography.

I also included some street shots to add to the Abstract Astoria gallery including images of the ever-present and ever-growing collection of sneakers hanging from telephone lines.  One shot in particular is my favorite of the sneaker shots because there are four pairs of sneakers hanging from five wires and they look like musical notes on a  staff.  A real running chord.  I had to shoot straight up into the bright grey sky to capture them. I converted the image to black and white and toned down (pardon the pun) the sky and the effect looks almost like  a line drawing.

I am excited with the dawning of a new season and one that is as colorful as spring and look forward to taking my camera out with me as I walk around my neighborhood or hop a train outside of Queens to capture the varied beauty of the many botanical gardens in New York City.

Happy Vernal Equinox to you all and enjoy the photos below.

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