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 . . . 


  1. There are a few phone boxes left in Korea. I can think of three real locations in downtown Gangneung and possibly a fourth if it's not a fake for the tourists. I suspect it might be a fake (I haven't walked into it to check) because phone boxes in Korea are an ugly puke-green and this one is bright red and next to an historical site. The only people I see using public phones these days are a few older ladies and gentlemen who either can't afford or don't want to use mobiles and the odd teenager whose parents won't let them have a mobile. Or who had their mobiles taken away as punishment.
    I like your phone box photos, by the way. More, please!

  2. Thanks Marcus - comments appreciated as always -I'll have to gather them all together and see where we go from there - there's quite a lot though.

    Yeah, I wonder how many are left? The ubiquitous red phone box over here has been quietly disappearing. There have been some campaigns to save them, but they've been in places where, GASP, there's no mobile signal . . . like in some of the Glens. A lot of places in Scotland, it's pretty much landline only. Rural phone boxes tend not to get vandalised or neglected to the same extent - does that say a lot about city populations? Dunno - country life isn't all innocent and goody-two-shoes - it might surprise you to know that tractor graffitti is alive and well in rural Scotland! Oh yes, "Fuck Ford" "Massey's Fer Poofs" "John Dere Y'Bas" . . .all been seen by me in various locations ';0)
    It's a funny old world.

  3. Ah yes, the phone box. Even though we had a phone at home (party line: nowhere near as exciting as it sounds), when spring arrived and a young man's mind turned to courting, it was off on the bike to the nearest red phone box, about 2 miles away (I grew up in a very rural location) to call the object of my affection. Dry mouthed and stammering I never managed, somehow, to say I wanted to say. Plus ca change.

    There's a certain charm in pictures of multiple reflections. Never telling quite which part of the image comes from where or what we're seeing. I had, when I first started taking pictures, back in 19 er <mumble>, when I was er <cough>, quite an extended phase of shooting into (shop) windows, puddles, mirrors, or a combination of as many of the above as possible.

    Kind of reminds me of some of the Sherlock Holmes from the Jeremy Brett era, imagery / cinematography. Amazing isn't it, how glass is transparent, yet reflective.

    Of all the images arrayed for our delight, I think it is No. 4 today which I like most. For me it's the ghostly presence of another figure outside. Is it a human? Or is it a dummy in a shop window seen through yet another obfuscatory layer of confusion?

    Keep on snapping...

  4. Hi J - I always enjoy these comments of yours.

    Yes, I suppose it is a certain naivity towards the obvious that keeps me going at phone boxes - you're right, they're transparent and yet reflective all at the same time - never thought of it in that way before - or are they reflecting the 'real' (whatever that may be) and yet portals to other happenings and times? Sorry - listening to too much Allan Holdsworth at the moment!

    Come on spill the beans - where and when? Rural? . . could we have a rural-off?

    It's a dummy in number 4 . . or is it?

    My word Holmes, I love a bit of Sherlock though not the current one . . . ever read all the stories? Actually, must admit, I was more of a Fu Manchu man myself . . .

  5. ***STOP PRESS***
    Spooky Coincidence. OR NOT...

    See your titles, "Don't Fence me in x" where x is an integer greater than zero and less than 5? There's a Fay Godwin exhibition running all the way through to 1st April at MOMA in Machynlleth.

    Specifically, tomorrow, I shall be visiting the aforementioned show to see the film preview of, you've guessed it, "Don't Fence Me In". There's no integer in it, though... but as it's got Fay in it I think we can forgive them that omission.

    I'm told, second hand, by someone who's already been, that in real life the prints knock spots off anything you may see in books... I'm really quite excited. Yes I am. To be sure. Indeed. <wheeze>. <splutter>. <sniff>.


  6. You're a lucky chap - hope it comes up this way!
    Have you seen that documentary on her on You Tube?
    Super-coincidentally, I have her autograph on the title page of a copy of Land I found in a bookshop in Alnwick.
    Super-spookily that exhibition is not far from the Centre For Alternative Technology, a place I always wanted to visit.

    I take it from this you're Welsh Wales based?

  7. Was reared in Wales, now I'm just the wrong side of the border. Somewhat close to https://www.mutualart.com/Artwork/Ritual-Ground--Nesscliffe--Shropshire--E/0CACB3456F781A5D

  8. Ah - never been to Shropshire, but I have a sort of Welsh connection in the form of my Dad's friend Trevor, who was 'proper' Welsh. Bevan, miners, farming, you name it and he Welshed it. He taught me a lot about country living and even let me have a go on his .410 shotgun and permanently loaned me his BSA air rifle . . . he's long dead now though, but I still think of turning up at his house with Dad to do some heavy duty building work at about 7.45AM and him saying "What d'you mean? It's nearly lunchtime!" Oh and he used to get a bakery in Moffat to "well fire" his bread every week - what a bloke.
    We also had a couple of really great holidays in Wales back in the late 60's - pretty sure there's a pic of me on Tenby beach somewhere . . .



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