Photosbycate Weblog

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Archive for the tag “urban”

In the Wake of Juno

So we didn’t have the catastrophic blizzard that was predicted but, we still had a pretty cool snow storm AND a snow day!!! Nothing like having a day off from work and spending it outside with my camera. Looking out my window, the ground was all covered in smooth white snow and the chunk-shush sounds of people digging their cars out of the drifts and, the whir and whirl of the snow blowers were the only sounds to be heard on this cold winter morning. I notice too, that my little red fire-hydrant had a big red friend.

I gulped down my coffee and gobbled my toast then proceeded to apply layers of clothing from head to toe. When done, I waddled outside with my camera and spent the next three hours bounding around in the snow taking photos of my neighborhood transformed by winter’s frosty breath, into an Urban Winter Wonderland.

Since there was so much white I went out of my way to find bright contrasting colors whether that be cars, berries or pipes. Anything that had color and was sticking out of a snow bank or mound was captured. I looked for repeating patterns and abstract angles and even a took a double reflection selfie.

Thank you Winter Storm Juno, I had a wonderful day.

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The Gallant Gantries

This past Sunday I had no real plans, no photographic theme in mind, I just needed to get out of the apartment and take some photos. After two buses and two trains, I found myself rambling along Vernon Boulevard in Long Island City heading towards Gantry Plaza State Park. This truly is my favorite type of day; me, myself and I walking camera in hand and shooting whatever “we” please.

The most dominant and interesting building on the Boulevard is the historic 1894 Gothic Church of St. Mary, whose red brick tower and white-tipped spire ascended toward the sky. Turning on 49th Avenue toward the waterfront and the famous old gantries that the park received its appellation from, I kept my eyes open for the unusual and unique subjects that make up my urban portfolio. My favorites from this walk being a craggy splintered hole through blue painted strand board, a tiny empty bottle of Bacardi Rum tucked into a broken rusted pipe, and a brick wall dotted with small white drainage spouts. So urban picturesque! 

By the time I arrived at the park the sun had taken a nap behind the cloud cover turning the sky a striking blue grey that imparted more drama to the wide angle shots. In a few hours though, the sun awoke and pushed aside some of the clouds and exposed a nice wide expanse of blue sky streaked with white.

It was cold and windy and the little bit of snow that had fallen last Friday was now crusty with ice and very slippery. I was hoping for icicles hanging from the giant thick iron nuts and bolts that are the skeletons of the gantries but, no such luck. Still, I was able to create images sandwiching my subjects between great open sky and fine lacy snow.

It being a cold January day, there was nary a soul about the water’s edge and that was just fine with me. I loved the austerity of this cold winter’s day, as it accentuated all the sharp angles and smooth curves of the piers jutting out from the parks shore, enhancing the bold industrial past of the Gantries and the lofty apartment buildings behind them. The seagulls were out sunning themselves on the pylons or surfing through the air as I walked out on the piers to admire the Manhattan skyline and turn my own face towards the warming solar rays.

Below my feet were tiny dark purple winter berries and spiked brown plants buried in the snow as well as the paw print of a big ole puddy-dawg! Thick tufts of dried blonde grasses swaying in the wind lined the inside of red rusted rail tracks; another reminder of the bygone days when the Long Island Rail Road ran cars right down to the water’s edge to receive cargo off loaded from ships via the Gallant Gantries.


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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.

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