The final countdown…

I have a number of little personal projects that trot along while the rest of my professional life gallops in the fast lane of fame and glory. Really.  Unfortunately for family, friends, colleagues and travelling companions, they all tend to get sucked into the weird little collections I’ve been building. I’ve had people I’ve worked with for a day send me pictures of random toilet blocks (more than once – its a strange thing to be convincing the world to spend their days photographing loos…). I’ve got something called ‘edge‘ which is pictures from the edges of places (it’s a clever title…). I like to feel I’ve offered the people I’ve met a new way of looking at the world… But my ‘count‘ series is the one that’s become most obsessive.

The basic principle is straightforward enough – count from zero to 100 using found numbers.  A relative once said to me ‘why not just walk up and down the street taking pictures of each house number…?’. They weren’t really entering into the spirit of the thing (though Danny Boyle did in the countdown to the Olympic opening ceremony – I like to think of this as my contribution to the cultural Olympiad rather than just someone nicking my idea…).

This all started in Bangkok a long time ago (which would be a good opening line for a novel…), with some rather random numbers, and has been going on for probably seven or eight years.  To be honest, I was ready to finish it. At the start of 2013, I had five numbers left: 59, 84, 92., 96 and 99. And I had three back-to-back overseas trips coming up. How hard could it be?

Well, hard enough that I still had a stubborn 84 holding out on the last day of the final trip.  My travelling companion had borne my random grunts about numbers in good stead, but was starting to show signs of perhaps wanting the conversation to move on a little…

The scene: mid-afternoon in Osh, a city deep in South West Kyrgyzstan (a rather special place in fact with connections to the Silk Road and a pilgrims’ mountain plonked right in the centre of the city), and still nothing. Until I saw this:

Going down... :: photo Richard Hanson (Osh, March 2013)

Going down… :: photo Richard Hanson (Osh, March 2013)

Traffic lights with a 100 second delay! Incredible! I’ve never seen that anywhere before. The first cycle through the countdown, our vehicle was too far away to make much sense of a picture.  We edged forwards, and I grabbed the first shot as we came to the corner – 7 seconds was all I needed to get from 91 to 84, but we were moving… We turned the corner onto the main street and:

The final count - 84 in Osh :: photo Richard Hanson

The final count – 84 in Osh :: photo Richard Hanson

As the taxi turned left, I squeezed off  (I love that phrase – it sounds so dramatic) four frames, all with 84 visible, all in focus, and this one with some elegance, balance and grace to it too. Unbelievable. The sense of relief in the vehicle was palpable. I’m free.  I am no longer locked into a hunt for peculiar and vaguely interesting numbers. Thank you Osh.

For anyone still reading, unfortunately this probably isn’t quite the end of posts about numbers on this blog. I’ve got some number pictures to go up from those recent trips, some of which are duplicates but are pretty cool. And at some point, if I get round to it, there’ll be a book of ‘Count’.

One question remains. What next? What ground breaking, fine art shenanigans shall I follow this with? I’ve got an unhealthy interest in shipping containers in odd places (with someone helpfully suggesting the title ‘I can’t contain myself…’ – thanks), but, hard as it is to believe, it has been mentioned once or twice that this might be a little dull. I’ve tried, and actually, it might be. So if anyone has a sparkling suggestion they’re willing to give away, let me know. Or I’ll just keep on posting more pictures of toilets

The other truly significant point that must be made here is that by some miracle of careful planning this post itself is my 400th. That’s a lot of photographic ramblings…  It just felt right that such a significant milestone was marked in a singularly numerical way. Hope you’ve read them all… Thanks.

richard hanson :: photographer :: sheffield