Tuesday, February 28, 2017

I'm In The Phone Booth (It's The One Across The Hall)

So qouth Ms. Harry when I was but a tender bit of a lad and she was the one girl that every boy at Lockerbie wanted to date. They were heady days, were them 1978/79 days - all exams and hormones and in my case (woe is me) pain and loneliness.
But anyway, enough o' that guff, I think that was the point in time that the British Phone Box became cemented in my being. Jings it was expensive to actually own your very own wired phone in your own house; we had one at home, but I had to really think (and ask permission) if it was OK for me to phone Steve in London on a Saturday afternoon . . . and even when I could it was for a restricted time . . . London was a long way away!
And then I moved to this Lost City on the East coast of Scotland. Being but a poor student, I had to rely on phone boxes for saying hello to all the parts of my family that were roughly a billion miles away (well, they might have been in real terms). 
Yes I wrote letters, frequently, received food parcels from my Mum, received letters from Steve and not so much from the rest of my family, but if I really wanted to speak to someone that wasn't paper, then it was load up the 10p's and head to the nearest phone box. 
I guess you can say that I became acutely familiar with that strange mixture of stainless steel, and business cards, scratched polycarbonate windows and the delightful tangy whiff of the end of an evening well spent inside the box . . . 
(Why do guys pee in phone boxes? Probably the same reason they sometimes pee in their own wardrobes [true story . . not me] anyway, it's utterly disgusting, but when the next nearest box is a mile or so away, you put up with it . . .) 
The bog standard phone box became a feature of my life - a wee lifeline home.

So, a number of years back (after I'd given them up and had owned my own actual phone for a long time) it occurred to me that with the relentless march of personal communication these doyens of British public life were falling into a massive state of disrepair. 
I started looking at them seriously and realised that neglect was really nibbling their edges, so I started photographing them. 
Now obviously I could have made them formal, straight up and down 'portraits' but that wasn't in the slightest what interested me, because (rather like that heady mix of burned cheese and brick hard pasta at the end of a lasagne, or the wonderful carbonised pieces of meat and onion in the bottom of a cast-iron griddle after a well-fired steak) the interiors of these boxes were taking on a superbly gnarly, crusty 'air' of abandonment and reflections and light. 
They were like small worlds of utter strangeness that, though being a part of the general everyday scene, were, in themselves far apart from anything normal
It was this I saw and started to photograph.
I think I might well have been the first in this obsession, because I've quite a ton of photos of these worlds now, probably enough to have an exhibition with, and, more importantly,  I've not seen anyone else doing the same thing . . . stick that in yer pipe and smoke it. 
You read it here first, so don't go nicking my ideas.

Well, recently I've been a bad lad actually - no photographs taken with the M2 since last June which is just terrible isn't it. 
I'd loaded a film (FP 4) last September with a view to taking it to Edinburgh, which I did, but wanting to enjoy the experience and not just keep stopping to take photographs, I managed a scant handful, came home again and carefully stored the M2 away with the film still in it.
And months passed.
A few weekends back I thought I really must do something about it, so, a trip to the home of golf and use the film up, which I did. Results were developed in the now standard for me Pyrocat-HD.

But before I show them, I think I have also discovered the very best way to hold a Leica (in my opinion).
Up till now I've used a wrist strap mostly, and because of the relative lightness of the camera that worked really well.
I've also used a standard strap over my shoulder carrying it at about hip height, which didn't work so well, but then inspired by Ernst Haas and this self-portrait with a Leicaflex I started thinking differently:

Ernst Haas - Self Portait, New York, 1971

I really tightened up the length on my Domke Gripper strap, draped it around my neck and it worked like a charm.
Chest height is good, because you can simply hold the camera as you walk and stop it banging around, but it is always ready to go and not too far to move from chest to eye. 
With your camera fully around your neck, it sort of makes you look like a tourist which is also good. Plus if you get to look even a tenth as cool as Ernst Haas in that photograph then all is right with the world!
This is the way forward to me - I know it sounds basic, but comfort with the camera and also how the camera looks to the outside world is an important thing.
Like this you look a bit of a putz and less of a threat and I really don't think anyone would take you seriously . . . at least that's my opinion.

Anyway, enough of the obvious, here's a few boxy pictures - I've photographed this particular box many times and it always turns up something interesting - this time it's where UV is cracking all the film stickers on the box/booth.

Don't Fence Me In 1

Don't Fence Me In 2

I wanted to find more pictures of this box, but since changing over my system all my filing of scans has gone to pot, so I didn't find them, however I did chance upon these two, which were taken in Edinburgh (about a year ago with the M2 and the Canon 28mm; film was TMX 400 and it was developed in 1+50 Rodinal.)
I love these two, especially the last one, which gives me the idea of a sort of space age rendezvous, and I have no idea why!
One thing you'll notice when taking pictures of phone boxes is that to get in tight, you need a wide-angle and you will also be restricted by the dimensions of the box (ie. the framework of the box will nearly always intrude in some manner, be it a reflection or the thing itself) but it's worth it - focus on your point of interest  inside or outside the box and let happenstance take the rest of the photo . . the results are nearly always interesting.

Don't Fence Me In 3

Don't Fence Me In 4

Well that's about it. I've spared you hours of reading this time!
No doubt phone boxes are in danger in your part of the world too - document them if you have them - they'll not be around for much longer.
And tell them Sheephouse sent you!

TTFN, . . . .

" . . . thus spake Billy Fury, ten years ago . . . ten years ago, that's a long time ago. What is happening now, that's an interesting question. Now what is happening now . . . I'll tell you what's happening now . . . urgh, Jean Jeanie flies on her own man . . . 
We're getting rather frustrated with one thing and another, this is the solution . . . 
Violence, violence, it's the only thing that'll make you see sense . . . "

OK you need to be a Mott The Hoople fan to get that last bit . . .