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.