alert to possibilities

Ever since I wrote this I’ve been thinking about why I enjoy shooting photographs of traffic signals. I’d never really given it much thought before.

I first photographed traffic signals in 2009, as part of the Utata Storytellers project. The project ended, but I continued to wander around and shoot the signals. I wasn’t trying to make a point or suggest something meaningful—I just wanted to create a certain mood. The traffic signals were just the compositional device that tied the various photographs together.

But having finally turned my mind to the idea, I think I’ve figured out why I’m drawn to traffic signals. First, they’re all essentially the same—one stoplight looks pretty much like another, one Walk/Don’t Walk signal is identical to all the others. But the backgrounds change. What I like is the continuity of the subject matter and the variety of the surroundings. I enjoy finding the best angle from which to photograph the signal, finding the right light, finding the right moment. There are some traffic signals I want to photograph, but not until the shadows are right. There are some that will, I believe, only become an interesting composition if there’s a person in the frame. I’ll sometimes wait ten, fifteen, thirty minutes hoping for just the right person to walk into the frame—and then I need to catch them at just the right point and, it’s to be hoped, in a posture that complements the traffic signal.

I enjoy this because sometimes it’s incredibly easy and sometimes it’s incredibly difficult. I enjoy this because there are traffic signals wherever I go. I enjoy this because even though the photographs are about traffic signals, they’re not really about traffic signals at all. They’re about being alert to possibilities.

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One thought on “alert to possibilities

  1. I’ve been doing this for years but never really noticed that I was. Then I saw your photos in Utata and it made me think about it. As much as I love the traffic signals, I believe I love the street in front of me more. I shoot through the windshield of my car more often than anything else. How soon this will lead to an accident is anyone’s guess. :D

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