Photo Essay

The story of inevitable

Phone booth, China town

In the world of fast developing technology some of the things that we were dependent on not that long ago are becoming obsolete,

and the pay phones are one of them. Being very aggressively pushed aside by the cellular service they simply cannot withstand the competition. One can`t argue the advantage of wireless, but the fact of the matter is that this option is not available to everyone. So how does this change affect people in different areas and neighbourhoods? What do pay phones mean to us? Will we even notice their disappearance?.. All these questions came to my mind when I first started the project in 2008.

One day while walking down the street, I noticed an empty phone booth and then it hit me... "one day in a very near future they will be gone forever". So I decided to drive around Los Angeles and photograph those phone booths in different parts of the city.

Throughout my excursions into various neighborhoods, I got a better sense of the individual cultures within each zip code. While driving around and photographing pay phones, I couldn`t help but notice how much their physical appearance changed from neighborhood to neighborhood. It was very obvious that in some areas pay phones are still very much integrated into the lifestyle of it`s population. And in other areas they were pretty much obsolete. It was almost a microcosm of the inner social workings of the population.

While exploring Los Angeles`s Westside, populated mostly by the upper-middle class, I could locate pay phones mainly in the areas visited by the tourists. They appeared to be well maintained and seamed to be scarcely used. At least I didn`t get a chance to see them in action. On the other hand, I had no problem finding pay phones when driving around South Central, Gardena, East LA and other areas of Los Angeles predominantly populated by low income families where cell phones are not a norm yet. That was where I found the jewels of my collection. There were at least two pay phones per street block with obvious signs of recent use. Almost every phone had an appearance that told a story. By seeing all the various stickers, advertising flyers and items of our daily life, one could definitely tell that these pay phones still play an important role in the neighbourhood`s life. While all around the country those phones are being removed one by one from their locations, here they are still a necessity.

And diving even deeper into the subject; how does the change effect homeless? So few of them have cell phones. They don't have facebook, myspace, or twitter. The pay phone is, in effect, their version of social media. They have no other way to communicate with the world beyond their immediate local circles, or more importantly, with their prospective employers. They have two choices: giving a pay phone`s number or a shelter`s. The latter could be compromising. But most of the coin phones don`t even accept incoming calls these days. So what`s out there for the down trodden? How should they survive the boom of the technology?

It seems that while our technological advances increasingly aid our own productivity and connectivity, it also is inherently excluding others, shrinking their world.

The most concentration of pay phones I found was at the airport. Saturated in small areas with large quantities, I watched many of them being used. After a long flight when the cell phone`s battery is dead, a pay phone seems to be the choice. Or an international traveler using a phone card. One would think that this was the place where the pay phones would stand forever. But even there I found number of booths with the phones being removed.

The day the very first pay phone invented by William Gray and installed at a bank in Hartford, Connecticut in 1898 had been revolutionary to our ways to connect. In a very short period of time the count of thousands of pay phones turned into millions. The world was becoming easier to reach. The service had been provided by large number of independent companies with competitive rates. Every one of us at some point or another stood there by some coin phone waiting for an important call. I myself remember not that long ago always keeping those quarters in my pocket for the phone's use outside of home. I remember standing in the streets of New York, where I lived at the time, waiting by the pay phone for a call from a client. And even though it was only about a decade ago it feels so much longer. Since then, we have witnessed an amazing change in the way people communicate. From basic cell phones to text massaging, then to smartphone productivity with all the options they have to offer. A century of the pay phone verses a decade of increasingly faster ways to communicate in the wireless world.

So how long will it be before the very last pay phone will be removed? There is no answer to that, though the future of it is obvious and inevitable.

And so it is, things come and go, being replaced with new things which will depart one day as well. But in the meantime, I`ll continue photographing the pay phones around Los Angeles until they become history once and forever, and observe the social changes this brings.

11 responses

  • Monique Guilbault

    Monique Guilbault (Deleted) said (23 Jun 2010):

    Interesting essay and comments!

  • Meggie Schwendemann

    Meggie Schwendemann gave props (11 Aug 2010):

    superb !

  • Epin Hervin

    Epin Hervin gave props (5 Sep 2010):

    Aaarrrggghhh, I just wanna write the same story...but your story is awesome :)

  • Rey mos

    Rey mos gave props (10 Sep 2010):

    Wow this is an awesome theme.

  • matjaz cernic

    matjaz cernic gave props (5 Jan 2011):

    simple and nice

  • Nataly Rader

    Nataly Rader   said (5 Jan 2011):

    Thank you all for your support

  • Ope O

    Ope O gave props (28 Jan 2011):

    this is a really interesting idea... good shots too

  • Erin Knowles

    Erin Knowles   gave props (11 Mar 2011):

    Great shots and story! Love this series.

  • Saroj Swain

    Saroj Swain gave props (31 Aug 2011):

    what a great find.....This is OUTSTANDING photo!!!

  • MindTheStep

    MindTheStep gave props (20 Nov 2011):

    Wonderful!

  • Andrea Gamba

    Andrea Gamba   said (7 Oct 2012):

    Beautiful work!!!

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