A meditation on the “Slow” sign

Much of my photography is made whilst out cycling on the country lanes around the UK. As I ride along I have plenty of time to look around me, perhaps to decide what I might photograph next or just to observe my surroundings.

One thing I notice are the “Slow” signs painted on the road.

They are possibly the most commonly painted signs on UK roads. Others can be destinations or warnings that you are travelling past a school or a hospital. The “Slow” sign usually precedes a potential hazard such as a bend, a blind summit or a hidden dip. Typically it will cover the width of the lane it applies to – on a narrow country road where I do most of my cycling this can be the entire carriageway. If the hazard is in both directions then two “Slow” signs appear in either direction facing each other.

For a cycling photographer the “Slow” sign is a great way to remind me that I should pause and look around me.

Here are a few of the photographs I have taken of “Slow” signs, the repetition of the message turning the images into a kind of meditation. One of the signs is handmade, another fades away and one of them appears to have been painted in triplicate, as if whoever painted it wasn’t quite sure where to put it.

I hope you like the photographs – click on each to view a larger version. And if you are interested in finding out a little bit the history of road signs, scroll down.

Road signs – a very short history

Once I started noticing “Slow” signs painted on the road I thought I should do a little bit of research about them. They are mundane objects which we tend to ignore but like everything they have a history.

Sadly I haven’t been able to find out when the first “Slow” sign was painted but I have discovered when the first road markings were painted. These would have been in 1911 in Michigan, USA. Edward N Hines, a cyclist and a member of the local county board of roads in an age when most roads in the US and elsewhere were tracks, is said to have come up with the idea when he saw a leaky milk cart leaving a trail of milk down the road. This gave him the idea to paint lines along the middle of the road to separate traffic travelling in opposite directions. Central lines arrived in the UK in 1918.

If you are interested in knowing more check out this video on Youtube from the History Guy. It’s from a US perspective but shows how even the mundane and overlooked can be fascinating.

Today road markings are painted using thermoplastic paint heated to 200 degrees celsius and coated with reflective powder after application. The paint takes about five minutes to dry.

As a part of the research for this blog and, in the interests of slowing down, I watched several videos on Youtube of people painting road signs. I literally watched paint dry. It was actually quite relaxing which is very much in keeping with the theme of “Slow”.

Published by Stephen Taylor

Freelance e-learning developer and instructional designer, photographer and cyclist

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