Cross Road Blues


According to legend, Robert Johnson, the Delta Blues musician, met the devil at a crossroads outside Memphis and sold his soul in exchange for his musical talents. He was forever plagued despite his success.

Faustian Tales are more popular at timesof moral crisis. We live in an era of fake news, political polarization and algorithmic echo chambers. Our experience of the world is fractured as we live out multiple identities on and offline.

Crossroads are a democratic place. We all have to wait. On average, we will spend five years ‘waiting’ duringour lifetime. Being held at a ‘DON’T WALK’ sign allows us a few seconds, and occasionally minutes, to just be with ourselves, and remember who we are.

At this time of uncertainty and change in America’s history, I’m looking for a moment where individualsare dwarfed by what surrounds them, appearinglost but searching for something. They then go on theirway, whichever direction that may be.


What prompted the project 'Cross Road Blues'?

In 2016, I was in the US a week before and during the elections and inspired by books such as Election Eve by William Eccleston, Robert Franks, The American and dozens others, I spent 10 days walking the streets of Downtown LA with my camera, looking for images which might make sense of what was happening in America and how a businessman and character from American TV might become President.

At this point, the idea of cross roads which I ended up making work about wasn’t really anything except something I wanted to cross off my mental checklist of thing to try to look out for.

After spending 10 days making the work, and when I got back to the UK, I was going through through the prints. By this time Donald Trump had become President. There was a shot which resonated with me more than anything else I had shot that 10 days.

It was a lady waiting at a cross roads. I was uphigh on a walkway and the sun was low in the sky. She is all alone, holding her hands in an almost religious posture, almost looking for guidance.

For me it summed up my experienced during those 10 days. Like many others, and as an outsider, I had seen America at a cross roads, 2 different presidential hopefuls wanting to take the country in 2 different direction.

I liked the idea of a cross roads representing a meeting place of opposites, both Physically and politically.

What questions does the project raise?

It’s all about directions, and the weight of decision making. Also, to quote Gaugain, I’m interested in asking ‘Where do we come from and where are we going?’

How and to what extent does it address the relationship between individual and city? What inform date choice of single individuals within these shots?

The crossroads become this conceptual framework with which I can look and document people under a set of constraints.

What informed the various heights at which the images are captured? From top down to eye level?

A lot of the work is made from multistory carparks. I’m always looks around a city trying to find suitable vantage points where I can position the camera. The elevated view point isn’t essential but I find it somehow elongates the ground and give people more space around them. I’m keen for them to look a little trapped in the urban sprawl so I try to find points of view where there is little or no sky.

How are the images constructed?

I walk and wait. A lot of waiting.

What role does light play within these images?

Once the photographs has been shot, how much time goes into post production?

I print all the work myself and the prints at 75”x60”.

What is your relationship and interest to your surrounding built environment?

I grew up in the countryside and moved to Central London aged 18 to go to Art College. I lived there for 10 years before moving to a small town outside London. I think the city is good for you and you are good for the city. It’s a symbiotic relationship of course.

I moved out of London when I had a child. It’s unfortunate that London isn’t really a city which is sustainable to live in once you have children for the majority of people.

But moving out of London ironically has made me shoot more in cities all over the world, so moving out of a city made the work possible. Perhaps I was too close to ‘the city’ when I was living in one.


Oli Kellett (b. 1983) is a British photographer based in Hastings, UK. After graduating fromCentral Saint Martins College of Art he spent four years writing scripts for TV advertsbefore focusing full time on photography in 2008.

In 2018 he was awarded both the Royal Academy Arts Club Award (awarded to an artist aged 35 or under for a work in any medium) and the Royal Academy Rose Award for Photography for his work included in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.