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Wait: interactions with street furniture
The urban street is probably the last place most people would associate with stillness but as noted in Florian Böhm’s Wait for Walk¹, at certain places, “the sidewalk becomes a stage on which the pulsating activity of the metropolis comes to a standstill for a brief moment.” Similarly, since even the painter’s clichéd bowl of fruit is vibrating on some level, it’s all relative and relatively speaking, stopping happens more often at crossing points than at most other street locations. I think it was this aspect that first attracted me to these places but the usually bright, yellow wait box and the activity around the button quickly became the main point of my attention.
A great deal of human activity, when observed closely, can start to seem odd. For example, people often seem to take the opportunity to wait, even when there is no impending traffic. I’ve seen people press the button then appear to consider their options and continue walking on the same side of the road, as if their pressing of the button instigated some kind of decision-making process. Then there are others who press the button in passing, only as a kind of backup plan, in case they can’t hurry across and have to actually wait to cross. Small children are often keen to be involved and I wonder if the joy of button pressing, as if in a science museum, is a kind of escape mechanism or a way of feeling like we have some control, in a city which rarely favours its pedestrians.
There are all manners of interactions with the button; from gentle prods to repeated tapping as well as long and unnecessarily firm presses which turn fingers white and it’s not just the button that shows signs of wear. Pedestrians use the box as a resting place for their own weight as well as various types of waste. Drinks cans and bottles are often seen along with the remains of apples and banana skins. It’s as if placing them higher from the ground somehow excuses the littering.
In employing a variety of tactics to capture these frames, stillness is often useful when waiting for the picture to come together. Sometimes my presence is enough to drive people out of range or to behave differently, so then walking with them is usually a better way to blend in but with that the timing involves a lot more luck. As a street photographer, the pavement, the road and the crossing are all parts of my studio and in the end, perhaps people aren’t much like fruit but when it comes to my observation and contemplation, they might as well be.
1. Florian Böhm’s book (Wait for Walk. Pub. Hatje Cantz 2007 – ISBN: 978-3-7757-1907-0 ) seems to document a more regimented culture where the crime of jay-walking, or perhaps more dangerous roads, compels the pedestrians to obey the crossing signals more strictly.