Health & Safety

25Mar07

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Kerouac’s On the Road is one of the all-time great books about the road journey. Joni Mitchell’s Amelia might be considered a pretty good song too about the spirit of flight:

“I pulled into the cactus tree motel
To shower off the dust
And I slept on the strange pillows of my wanderlust
I dreamed of 747s
Over geometric farms

Dreams, amelia, dreams and false alarms.”

I might dwell on Dylan’s endless references about ‘walking’ another time though I would say, Dylan walks everywhere – or so his claims show in dozens of listed lyrics. The Homo-Erectus photographers’ amble (ie. almost upright) is a rather good method of kinetic motion. It has it’s curses however and the slight scoliosis I apparently inherited has been knotting my upper-lumbar tissues since my thirties. Shoulder-borne camera bags were cavernous saddlebags stuffed with as many items of full-metal kit (bodies, lenses and motor-drives etc.) as your undernourished frame might allow. Light-box glare was another occupational hazard. That and head-splitting headaches after a day squinting through a Schneider slide lupe. You are probably all too young to recall the Pleistocene Epoch when we actually looked into a 4x magnifier to the point of almost falling into the depth of transparency celluloid. All this must seem like the Antiques Roadshow. In fact, I may be that mad old bugger who transported the family automaton across the harbour, the only occasion ever when Michael Aspel sniggered.

As well as peering into peoples’ windows, justified of course by the freedom I am allowed as an artist to photograph in public, I have also been noticing the personality of roads. I’m interested in their surfaces, their markings, quirky and inappropriate messages and especially their Health & Safety measures. I get the impression from TV safety campaigns that road-users in the UK are a pretty useless bunch of selfish petty-criminals who don’t ‘think bike’.

So what do I see standing in the middle of the Clerkenwell Road trying hard to look like a coalition roadblock? I passed my driving test in 1977 (failed the first time and proud of it), so I probably wouldn’t pass the theory test today but I do know what a concrete-filled oil drum does at an impact speed of 40mph to an engine block, a cyclist’s legs and a pedestrian’s head!

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