According to some family elders when I was a young kid, although I was generally very obedient, compliant and well-behaved, there was something I would regularly say that disrupted the stereotype. This phrase was, why should I? I remember being teased by some relatives, exaggerating and elongating the way I pronounced “shhhoould”. Decades later, I’m still prone to thinking independently and questioning assumptions.
In this post I’ve gathered photographs I’ve taken that feature the question mark symbol. As opposed to the exclamation mark, which is more commonly seen in graffiti and signage, I’ve found the question mark is not regularly on display in the streets so I tend to take notice when I see it.
On a recent trip to New York whilst waiting for a train on a subway platform I found myself sitting next to a woman wearing a large question mark earring. I asked if I could take her picture and I took it as a sign to sort through my images on this theme.
Another question mark accessory that caught my eye was a badge, designed and worn by fellow photographer Richard Kaby. Below, a photograph taken at the London Colour Walk in November, 2022:
The other day I was chatting with Richard and told him about the theme of this blog and that I was going to include an image of his question mark badge. We were discussing the concept and the importance of asking why? and he said that for him it also went hand in hand with why not?. Funnily enough whilst in New York I had taken a view from the hotel window precisely because the outside of a building in the distance had been graffitied with the words Why... and to it’s side WHY NOT?
Below, one of my earliest photographs containing a question mark. I was amused and bemused by this sign, seen in a subway station in New York back in 2010. I googled the reference; the hotline number apparently received many calls but it was in fact an advertising campaign promoting a comedy film:
The representation of a question mark can come in surprising forms. One day, on leaving my apartment I looked down at the pavement and noticed a hair extension that formed the illusion of the shape of a question mark:
Below, a few shots where the question mark felt mysterious:
The mystery of the red question mark juxtaposed with a llama in the image above was solved by my cousin Susi. She explained that the word LAMA is Hebrew for why, so the llama image serves as a Hebrew pun. I should have realised that as I speak Hebrew but I had obviously been trying to decode it from an Anglophone perspective!
Next a couple of examples of Italian graffiti combined with question marks where the language and/or spelling suggest a specific dialect.
A couple more images featuring sightings of question marks in Venice. The first image depicts the current mayor of Venice and the text asks where are you?
More question marks from my travels. Below, striking graffiti in Paris which roughly translates as I’m leaving, and you?
Watching Thunderbirds on TV in Tokyo:
A couple from San Francisco:
I didn’t understand the above billboard when I saw it and had to look it up. Apparently Lombard Street is the most crooked street in the world. Aha!
Next, a selection of images shot in London featuring question marks seen on walls:
Above, during the Covid Pandemic this chalk sign was attached to a chipboard wall, asking who will you hug once this lot is over?
And finally, a question mark on a tattoo, the quotation a line from the Abba song Thank You for the Music:
Also published on Medium.