While you were sleeping: the 4am Project

An auto-level adjusted green palm on the Southend seafront.
An auto-level adjusted green palm on the Southend seafront.
Bollards at 4am.
Bollards at 4am.

A bench in Southend at 4am

A bench in Southend at 4am

At 4am on the 4th of the 4th – on Saturday just gone – my phone alarm rang, I hauled myself out of a rather snug hotel bed on Essex’s east coast and walked out into the night with a rather expensive Canon 30D around my neck. Why? Well, here’s the ‘six honest serving men’ of the 4am Project.

What: A photographic project started by my Flickrmeet friend Karen Strunks, which began in Birmingham and went worldwide in the last few weeks, thanks to the 4am project website and Twitter, and attention from The Guardian, BBC Midlands Today and other media. The idea was to create a global snapshot of the world at this unearthly hour of the morning.

Why: Because wherever you are looks and feels very different at 4 in the morning. But like many successful internet things, it had that ‘never been done’, ‘you’re doing what?!’, ‘why the hell not’ lure – and all while ‘the normal people’ were sleeping, too. In November in Birmingham, there was also 11/11/11 event – 11 hours on the 11th of the 11th travelling around the circular number 11 bus route and creating multimedia content – though I’m not sure if this was a direct inspiration.

When: 4am (natch). But the main event was 4am on 04.04.09. Karen has hinted that there may be more events to come. I thought I’d nip out for five minutes then run back to bed but was out for an hour and a half in the end.

How: With cameras of all ilks from mobile phone cameras to TTVs, compacts to SLRs; tripods and other stabilising gear; and with family, friends, Twitter contacts, or solo. My 4/4/4 experience was solo and with a Canon 30D, experimenting with the bulb setting and veering onto the ‘M’ manual setting for the first time. Later there was some post-prod work in Photoshop – ranging from a quick resize to full scale colour warping manipulation fun.

Where: Many many countries took part: see the map – but I was on a trip away at Thorpe Bay near Southend so I went on a solo shoot along the seafront – which was both exhilarating and coldly adrenalising. If I sat still, I turned to stone and drivers didn’t clock me. Like being invisible. I also snapped some indoor activity at the Roslin Hotel – at 4am a wedding guest chatting up a girl at the long-since-closed bar, at 5am the doorman vacuuming away the wedding disco debris with a perpetually happy Henry vacuum cleaner.

Who: Karen Strunks is the photographer behind the project. She started taking 4am photos a while ago and, with this amazing initiative, has taken it to the next level. She gave the project passion, professionalism and a sense of community that I found really inspiring.

Check out the results: View my Thorpe Bay Esplanade shots on my Flickr. Or, see all the 4am pictures here – over 1300 photos uploaded at last count.