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.


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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