Disconnected- new images on display at Cole Coffee starting October 11th, 2018
Disconnected is an on-going art project documenting the demise of the once-important and ubiquitous payphone.
This work is part of my Disappearing Landscape series chronicling the end of things, and profiling places that were once vitally important but now are fading into obsolescence.
A Project is born.
Almost ten years ago, I was walking around Berkeley with my brand new iPhone 3G. It was the first cell phone I owned that featured a decent camera. Amazing, right? It quite literally changed the way I looked at the world. It made me more aware of my surroundings and gave me the immediate ability to share what I saw with my friends via text or social media. Of course, that is not unique to me. Most of us now post the things we see regularly.
But, on this particular day, as I was walking around the U.C. Berkeley campus, I ventured into Edwards stadium. There in the tunnel was a payphone – a disconnected payphone. The light was just right. The payphone was just right. Everything was exactly as it was supposed to be. At that moment I realized: This is the end of an era. I had just taken a picture of a payphone, with the thing that had made it obsolete.
The thing that killed the thing. I’ve been taking pictures of them ever since.
I am a filmmaker and cinematographer by trade and an artist by practice.
My work takes me all over the country, and occasionally other parts of the world. When I travel I always keep my eye out for three things: local food (like Coney Dogs in Detroit or Butter Burgers in Milwaukee), record stores (like A1 in NYC or Josey in Dallas) and payphones.
When hunting for payphones, I look for neighborhoods that seem forgotten, probably even neglected. Sometimes these are places with the most character. One of the best parts of this project is the people I’ve met all over the U.S. during my search for payphones. I can’t tell you how many times somebody has said something like, “You don’t see payphones anymore!” But the truth is a little bit different. It’s true that they are disappearing, but we also don’t see them anymore because they are no longer important to us. They have become invisible right in front of our eyes. Almost all of us carry a phone with us wherever we go. Payphones have seemingly faded into the background. They just aren’t relevant anymore.
Usually, the payphones are as neglected as the neighborhoods I find them in. Often, bankrupt or irresponsible companies have removed the phone but abandoned the housing, leaving a post or a shell that is now just a scrap metal remnant. Surprisingly some cities have numerous working payphones. Manhattan and New Orleans are examples of places with a lot of working payphones. New Orleans still maintains a lot of them because during hurricane Katrina they were the only way many people could contact the outside world. In May of 2018 I met a woman who told me a great story of how the payphone at Molly’s Irish pub on Toulouse Street became a gathering point for the neighborhood because their payphone worked. Other cities like Detroit and Milwaukee have abandoned and damaged payphones littered all over them.
Payphones in different places seem to have different personalities. What I mean by that is in some areas the payphones are basically ignored and left to decay, whereas in other cities like Oakland where I live they have been heavily adorned and augmented by a thriving street art scene. I love it when artists reclaim and repurpose these fixtures with stylized graffiti, stickers, or somehow make it their own. Even if I only find the remnants of payphones, there’s meaning in that. The sheared bolts from a former payphone base sticking out of a cement block, or a wire coming out of a wall-- these are the things we overlook, that are part of our disappearing landscape.
The best part of this project is the myriad of thoughts and feelings it raises for me. They just seem like a perfect metaphor for life and growing older. How can something so seemingly ensconced in our everyday life now be obsolete? They used to be clean shiny and new— important and needed. Half jokingly I think the same about myself. But I will address that at another time and in greater depth.
Here’s a little about the pieces I’m showing at Cole Coffee. First off I’d like to thank Desiree and Mike, the owners of Cole Coffee, for giving me the space on their walls at their awesome cafe. I’ve been going there steadily since I moved to Oakland 18 years ago. They are wonderful folks and have been great to work with on this show.
I’m putting up 7 pieces. There will be four large pieces each with multiple images, and three smaller individual pieces that will show one image on each. Two of the larger pieces will be images from trips to specific cities (in this case, Detroit and New Orleans). Another large piece will be images of phonebooths that I’ve found around the country. Payphones are hard to find; actual phonebooths are even harder to find. The biggest piece, measuring 24” by 42”, is a mix of some of my most favorite recent payphones. The three smaller pieces will be individual shots and I intend to rotate these out during the show’s run.
During the run of the show I will be posting here about some of the images. Many of these pictures have stories attached to them. Sometimes it’s the people I’ve met who are either in or out of the frame of the shot, and sometimes it’s an odd anecdote of some sort about the phone or the place I found it.
Are the pieces for sale? Nice of you to ask. Why Yes. Yes they are. I’ll be setting up an e-commerce store soon but in the mean time you can e-mail me and ask about what’s available. I obviously have many more images available than what are in the show and from many more cities from around the world. I’d be happy to talk to you about this obsession and maybe eve sell you a print or two.
Ok…I think that’s it for now. I hope to see you at the reception on October 11, 2018 from 6 to 8!