michael hughes’s blog

The making of… The Policeman’s Helmet

Posted in The making of... by michaelhughes on February 15, 2009
The Policeman's Helmet

Houses of Parliament, London. Combined pencil sharpener and bell in the form of a policeman's helmet















One of the favourite stories of my childhood is the one of the boy asking the (English) policeman if his head goes right up to the top of his helmet. It is the combination of naivety and cheek which I really like. For me this picture epitomises this attitude, it is also a real photographer’s picture. 

Sometimes I travel with my daughter Lea to London to visit art galleries and museums, usually Marion comes over for the weekend to do some shopping and we fly back together. This trip was 2001 and, as usual, we had lovely weather. We took the tube down town from my friend Don’s place in Islington and got off at Oxford Circus to walk down to Hamley’s. Quite soon we found a Souvenir shop and, although I hadn’t necessarily intended doing any photography that day, Lea was enthusiastic and we ended up buying a load of stuff. Different kinds of cut-out postcards, a plastic pencil case in the form of a London bus, a fridge magnet telephone kiosk, a beefeater teddy bear and a pencil sharpener in the form of a policeman’s helmet as well as a few other things which never got into the frame.

The first shot I set up was the pencil case/London bus. A few yards down from the Souvenir’s shop was a bus stop and I held up the case getting the man apparently climbing off the case. Later on a comment on Flickr asked me if I knew that the pencil case bus not only stopped at that stop in real life but also it was travelling in the right direction, I didn’t but am grateful having it pointed out. Once we’d got that in the bag we ambled down to Piccadilly Circus where we grabbed a MacDonalds. From there we walked down Regent Street to where it crosses with Charles ll Street. On the corner there are two telephone kiosks and I got my shot of the man getting out of the fridge magnet. Striking east along Pall Mall we hit Trafalgar Square and we decided to head towards the Houses of Parliament by way of Downing Street to photograph the cut-out postcards we still had. I had practically forgotten about the pencil sharpener; I had only bought it because the idea of it was preposterous, who thinks up these things and then manufactures them?

The sight of two policemen at Trafalgar Square reminded me of the helmet and on the off chance, I approached them to ask their permission. It was extremely difficult to explain to them what I wanted to do; I was thinking along the lines of a portrait with the pencil sharpener, despite my innocent looking daughter, they declined, I am sure they had no idea what I was talking about. Undeterred but footsore we walked down Whitehall, past Downing Street to the Houses of Parliament. There is an entrance on St Margaret Street where uniformed policemen were standing guard, fending off tourists and I suddenly saw my chance. Sneaking up around the sandstone columns with the helmet and camera at the ready, I quickly sneaked off a few shots. It felt quite cheeky, but I had no intention of warning them by asking their permission and I assumed that they would not have any idea what I might be doing, let alone see what I was holding in my hand. I must admit that it was only later that I saw the shadow of my hand on the man in the picture’s back and how wonderful that he was wearing a light-coloured jeans jacket! The policeman in the background is taking notice but he did nothing to stop me, so I assume he thought me harmless.

The shadow makes the shot because the helmet fits so perfectly in scale one would not be able to see if I was holding something at all. Looking carefully one can see the striker of the bell which this astounding object also is, the angle of the sun throwing the shadow conceals it. All in all a truly satisfying picture and a great reminder of a day out with my daughter, Lea.

 Lat 51°30’1.95″N
 Long 0° 7’33.81″W

flickr index: 50,094 views, 195 faves, 34 comments




One Response

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  1. forex proffessor said, on May 22, 2009 at 6:38 am

    Your are Great. And so is your site! Awesome content. Good job guys! Interesting article, adding it to my favourites!

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