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Little Green Men |

I feel it’s good for an artist to put himself out for his art. For Oranges and Lemons I put in the miles, for Once around the Sun I put in the hours, but for this piece I put my very life on the line. And the line I’m talking about is the dotted white line painted in the middle of the road!

I probably had my inspiration for this picture seeing all the letters painted on the road while I was cycling. Of course there is a subtle difference between observing road markings from a moving vehicle and standing in the middle of the road to photograph them. If this was dancing in the street, then I was definitely performing the quickstep!

I’m sure Martha and the Vandellas had a more communal activity in mind when they were singing the song in the sixties. They probably envisaged a mass of revellers, their weight of numbers bringing the traffic to a standstill, rather than the solitary gyrations I had to enact, as I waltzed around the oncoming buses. My dance moves mostly consisted of lots of quick side to side head movements and some lightning fast footwork.

Luckily I often had on hand my own portable traffic calming apparatus, otherwise know as an Ikea stool. I inherited this useful piece of equipment from a photoshoot for a book, and it has served me well. Placed a few metres down the traffic flow I felt that if it didn’t actually stop the vehicles that were thundering towards me, at least the clatter of plywood on steel and Tarmac would give me a few seconds to dive out of the way.

Thankfully I actually only had to employ my stool for a few shots; with a bit of research I was able to find most of the letters I needed in quiet cul-de-sacs and under used one way streets. The really dangerous letters are the D from a direction sign to Piccadilly at the bottom of the Haymarket and a G from a sign to Long Acre in Upper St. Martin’s Lane. I rehearsed my moves carefully. I spent a long while gauging the stop start of the traffic from the safety of the pavement. Then when I felt I could fall in step, I made my dash. Stool down, camera up. Click. Then a half pirouette, and taking my partner by the leg, a skip and a jump back to the kerb.

Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow. If taking the pictures of the street was fast and furious, like 200 beats per minute gabber techno, photographing the little green men was as painfully slow as the last dance of a school disco. Once more my Ikea stool was indispensable. This time my four legged dance partner providing me with and extra two and a half feet of height. If I stood on the stool I could get nearly foot level with the walking men. It ought to have feel good, being on the pavement and well out of the path of speeding vehicles, however I didn’t feel much safer than I did standing in the middle of the road. I’ve never been very good with heights, and unfortunately my vertigo kicks in even at this moderate elevation. I’m sure that if I had been a fashion victim in the heyday of glam rock, a mere two inches of stack heels would have been enough to send my head spinning. Dancing would have been out of the question.

Wobbling precariously on my stool a few feet above the pavement, I steadied myself by hanging on to the traffic light with my non camera hand. Focusing was tricky. With one eye shut, and the other glued to the viewfinder I was thankfully oblivious to any strange looks I might have got from any crossing pedestrians. I hoped I wasn’t causing carnage as I blocked their view of the signals. At least I couldn’t hear the sound of a pile up below my feet.

I always had to let the light sequence run two or three times before I was ready to take my shot. Check the focus. Check my framing. Check the exposure. Re-focus. Re-frame... The lights pulsed to a silent beat, green to red, to green to red. To green. Click went my shutter. People and cars, becoming slaves to the rhythm, danced out a tango in strict time. Stop, go, stop, go. Click. As I rocked back and forth on my rickety perch a tune played in my head;
“Swinging, swaying, and records playing,
And dancing in the street.”