WALK THIS WAY.
I saw this sign the other day and it made me smile and think. It was not directing me to go in the direction of anything specific, but out of curiosity I decided to follow it. I walked to the left as the sign directed and I found myself with a low wall to my left and stacks of fishing nets to my right, beyond the wall was a small river and to right of the nets was the boat filled harbour. It was a pleasant little detour and enjoyed peering over the wall at the water below and photographing the twists and turns in the nets. I walked until I reached the point at which the water that had been on either side of me met and I discovered I was at a dead end. I guess I could have jumped in the water, I do like swimming, but on this occasion I decided that the best option was to turn around and come back.
Upon returning past the sign and subsequently walking in the opposite direction to the arrow, I began to question the intentions of the original sign maker/hanger/instigator. I began to wonder whether they had hoped to encourage people to take the time to walk up this underused path at the harbour, or had simply hoped to discourage people from walking a different route. I questioned what people would do if the sign did not exist and whether it was a positive or negative addition to the space. I didn’t come to any particular conclusions, as this questioning happened in the space of a few seconds inside my head before I was distracted by the waft of fresh fish and chips.
I am constantly curious about the number of words that exist in our built environment. A number of these words come in the form of signage, but signs don’t need to be formal structures. In fact, I often wonder if people are so used to the formal qualities of official signs that they become rather blind to them, that or they subconsciously submit to them. I saw a lot of signs when I was walking around New York earlier this year and yet these words ‘NO LOITERING’ that were chalked into a stairway were the ones that stood out to me. Perhaps they stood out, as at the exact moment I spotted them I must have been loitering in some way and they caught me in the act as I turned to look directly at them. It was as if these words had preempted that the spot in front of their appartment was the one that I would take to rest for a minute after walking for hours.
I guess that is what most signs do, they run through possible scenarios for a specific place or space and then they try to guide people in what is deemed as the best way to navigate. I think most signs have good intentions, and sometimes signs in the form of identification and navigation are definitely necessary.
However, sometimes it is also nice to decide for yourself which way to walk, as it can make the simplest journeys in life seem just a little bit more like an adventure.
Words & Images © Hazel Saunderson