Bea­tles fans still flock to ze­bra cross­ing for Abbey Road photo

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - DESTINATIONS - By Stephen Wick­ens

LON­DON — It’s nearly 50 years since Iain Macmil­lan snapped the cover photo for the Bea­tles’ Abbey Road al­bum, and still fans of the Fab Four flock from around the globe to the land­mark ze­bra cross­walk to cap­ture their own shot. “For many boomers, it’s on the bucket list, but lots of young peo­ple come too,” says Richard Porter, who runs a Bea­tles walk­ing tour in Lon­don. When I first vis­ited the cross­ing out­side Abbey Road Stu­dios in 2006, I met peo­ple from six con­ti­nents in less than 30 min­utes. They had come huge dis­tances with a spe­cific pic­ture in mind and most, if not all, went home dis­ap­pointed. Ar­riv­ing when there was too much traf­fic was the main prob­lem, though a young Aussie cou­ple had it out on the side­walk af­ter learn­ing their cam­era bat­tery was still in the charger at their ho­tel. A decade older and wiser, I met Lon­don-based As­so­ci­ated Press pho­tog­ra­pher Matt Dunham at the in­ter­sec­tion of Gar­den, Grove End and Abbey roads for tips on how to get it right. You can’t achieve per­fec­tion — the road painting is dif­fer­ent and the white Bee­tle from the orig­i­nal is in Volk­swa­gen’s mu­seum in Ger­many — but you can get a fun shot. Prepa­ra­tion: “Study the orig­i­nal,” Dunham says, “or have it handy on your phone for ref­er­ence.” The shot is square and the ze­bra cross­ing cre­ates a band across the bot­tom quar­ter. Note that the road meets the hori­zon al­most dead cen­tre and that there’s an apart­ment pok­ing through the trees in the top right (the trees have since grown, but it’s still a good marker, es­pe­cially when trees are bare). Equip­ment: The orig­i­nal was prob­a­bly shot on a square for­mat Has­sel­blad, “and you’d need to be a math­e­ma­ti­cian to work out all the de­tails,” Dunham says. An av­er­age per­son will want a wide-an­gle lens, at least 24-mil­lime­tre, for a DSLR. Point-and-shoot cam­eras and smart­phones can do the job, though not if you want a se­ri­ous print for pos­ter­ity. The orig­i­nal was shot from the low rung of a lad­der, though a solid box can get you high enough to en­sure your sub­jects don’t block where the road meets the hori­zon. “A Hail Mary shot (hold­ing the cam­era high above your head) will do if you’re tall,” Dunham says. “Oh, and make sure your bat­tery is charged and in the cam­era,” he adds with a smile. Get­ting there: The cross­ing is nowhere near Abbey Road sta­tion on the Dock­lands Light Rail line, which con­fuses many tourists. It is in West­min­ster, north of Lon­don’s main tourist ar­eas. Take the Ju­bilee tube line to St. John’s Wood sta­tion, which also houses Porter’s Bea­tles Cafe and sou­venir shop. From there, the ze­bra cross­ing is a five-minute walk west on Grove End. A mon­u­ment to Vic­to­rian sculp­tor Ed­ward Onslow Ford is vis­i­ble as you get close. The 139 and 189 buses also go there. Tim­ing: Traf­fic is the en­emy, so ar­riv­ing be­fore the morn­ing rush is smart. Most peo­ple visit later and have to rely on luck. You can stop traf­fic at the cross­walk, but stopped cars ruin the back­ground. Sun­day is good, but the tube starts later (I walked). Sum­mer is best be­cause “trees are filled out in the orig­i­nal, and the sun rises ear­lier, creat­ing more op­por­tu­ni­ties,” Dunham says. Try for a clear day: The orig­i­nal, shot Aug. 8, 1969, fea­tures blue sky. Road safety: Traf­fic moves fast and Bri­tons drive on the left. I saw a woman al­most hit by a cab af­ter look­ing the wrong way be­fore step­ping onto the road. Some driv­ers won’t abide dither­ers. Porter, who brings his tours to the cross­ing, says ten­sion be­tween driv­ers and Beatle­ma­ni­acs was once so great a lo­cal politi­cian tried to have the cross­ing re­moved. The idea back­fired and the site now has her­itage pro­tec­tion. Dunham, who did a spe­cial 45th-an­niver­sary Abbey Road shot for The As­so­ci­ated Press, re­calls a driver lean­ing on the horn for ages. We can walk it out: Sub­jects should stroll up the mid­dle of the cross­ing with those long in­vert­edV strides the Fab Four used. Your shot will look lame and static if feet are flat on the as­phalt. Moto Yama, orig­i­nally from Tokyo but liv­ing in Lon­don, added a nice touch by wear­ing a white John Len­non suit and a wig for shots he and his wife Marika planned to send home to their par­ents, who are also big Bea­tles fans. Ca­ma­raderie: What you’ve learned will likely be used for shots of oth­ers. You may have to com­mu­ni­cate through a lan­guage bar­rier to some­one who will shoot for you. Visi­tors of­ten trade email info so they can swap photos. On busy days, ac­ci­den­tal photo-bomb­ing is inevitable and pa­tience and a smile is of­ten the only re­sponse. As Aleks Ze­likov of Moscow told me while wait­ing for traf­fic to clear so he could take shots of a Chilean cou­ple who had just snapped pic­tures of him: “It’s United Na­tions buddy sys­tem,” he said. “All you need is love.” Celebrity sight­ings: A few months back, a cou­ple of women de­clined an of­fer from a man of­fer­ing to shoot their pic­ture, Porter says. If they’d looked closely, they may have no­ticed they were talk­ing to Paul McCart­ney, who lives nearby. Days be­fore my visit, Zoolan­der stars Owen Wil­son and Ben Stiller paid a visit. Any Time At All: Many now phone friends and rel­a­tives when they ar­rive so folks at home can watch at www.abbeyroad.com/cross­ing. The 24hour web cam mounted at the record­ing stu­dio has also caught scenes rang­ing from an ex­otic pole dance to a jog­ger be­ing hit by a car. But mostly, dur­ing day­light, it shows pil­grims try­ing to get that per­fect shot. On the web: www.beat­lesin­lon­don.com/ www.abbeyroad.com/cross­ing

MATT DUNHAM / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Tourists pose for a pic­ture on the ze­bra cross­ing where the cover pic­ture of the Bea­tles’ Abbey Road al­bum was taken, out­side Abbey Road stu­dios in Lon­don.

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