“We look at the world and see what we have learned to believe is there. We have been conditioned to expect. As photographers, we must learn to relax our beliefs.”
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Several years ago – I can’t quite recall how many – I stumbled across a friend’s Facebook album. It was a series of photographs, documenting every payphone along one road in Phoenix. I can’t recall which street it was. I think maybe it was Van Buren. I can’t even remember whose album it was, but I think it was this one gentleman who graduated ahead of me from art school named Aaron. Anyways, when I was looking at those photographs, I remember thinking it seemed like a silly project. But then, not to long after, it began to intrigue me a bit. In an era where so many households don’t even have landlines, in a world where flickering screens are constantly competing for our attention, I had scarcely thought about the eventual extinction of the pay phone.
When I was in high school, there was a payphone outside of the coffee shop I frequented. Frequented? Hell, I should have been paying rent. I practically lived there. The payphone outside could receive incoming calls, I remember. And those of us who spent all of our free time at The Grape Coffee House knew the number by heart. We didn’t have cell phones or tablets, and only a small handful of ‘rich kids’ even had a computer. We just had cheap cigarettes and used bookstore paperbacks. And endless conversation.
Most of the coffee shops I spent time in during college were different. Everybody had laptops and earbuds. I suppose this is the part of the narrative where I start to sound like somebody’s cantankerous grandfather, griping about how kids these days wouldn’t know good music if it bit ’em in the ass, or some such thing. It’s not so much that I’m bothered by the direction of things; it’s that I tremendously value the sense of community that I recall experiencing back in those days. Since then I, too, have watched Netflix on my laptop, at a coffee shop, for no other reason than I damn-well felt like it. But that won’t erase those good old times, when we didn’t have modern conveniences to distract us from one another.
Walking around the city, examining the loading docks behind grocery stores and the alleyways we never dare to go, something of the old world is still there. And, to my surprise, there are still payphones out there. There aren’t very many, but if you have a few coins in your pocket, you can still communicate with somebody.
And you don’t even have to think about your data plan, minutes, or cell phone bill. But you might have to remember how to use a phone book, lest you can remember a single important phone number all on your own.
Now ain’t that somethin’?