Walking is… waiting

By Philip Cowell

Someone clever has worked out that we spend, on average, five years of our lives waiting. That’s five years of waiting in queues, at traffic lights, for friends to turn up… Dare I say it: five years of waiting for something to happen.

The extraordinary larger-than-life photograph above (it’s almost two metres wide in real life) by Oli Kellett was featured in this year’s Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition, along with his Cross Road Blues which won The Rose Award for Photography. It’s part of the artist’s exploration of waiting as a central feature of the urban environment.

By presenting a group of people on a street corner in Houston, Kellett seems to literally, as well as figuratively, shine a light on the act of waiting. I imagine it’s a real spontaneous moment, caught by the camera, but it could almost have been staged, in the way real life itself can often feel staged. We are left to imagine the unseen sign opposite: DON’T WALK. That literal American spelling out of the act of waiting.

The people on the street corner seem to have huddled together, almost uncanny in their choreography, their heads and faces looking outwards in various directions. There’s something kind and loving about their postures, collective and singular. The man in the blue trousers on the right almost seems to be checking how everyone’s doing.

In the caught moment, the pedestrians seem like they are not just waiting for the lights to change, but for their lives to change. It is as if they are enjoying their waiting, or experiencing a little more curiosity about it at least.

Here’s a thought: Street Wisdom is not so much about walking as it is waiting. It’s about presenting another way of approaching our waiting – those five years of our lives – as a potentially rich and fruitful space of enquiry and enjoyment.

What if, instead of getting annoyed by not being able to cross the road because of a red light, we got excited about it?

Free with every Street Wisdom session: five years of your life back!

Let’s not wait around for something to happen. Let’s just wait around. That our lives might be happening more than we think in those five years we spend waiting is the open secret of the streets. And the streets are openly inviting us to approach our waiting differently. Creatively. To become the waiters of our own lives.

Have a look at Oli Kellett’s photographs – they’re gorgeous depictions of Street Wisdom moments we see week in, week out on our free walking workshops. 

And next time you’re out on the streets and stop at the lights, stop before you stop, and ask yourself a simple question: What are you waiting for?

by Philip Cowell