Photographer Amy Becker employs today's technology to interpret the past. As part of the exhibit "What Is Lost" at Garage Gallery in Beacon, Becker and fellow artist Fern Apfel focus on how wired telephones and handwritten letters—two forms of communication that now seem almost archaic—have been replaced by digital devices.
The cover image contrasts an anonymously held mobile phone with the shell of a wired phone unit inside a public phone booth. "This image was photographed on the first floor of the main branch of the Newark Public Library in New Jersey," Becker says. "There was a teenage girl sitting, caught up with her device, exactly where I wanted to make the image of these old wooden payphone booths. I politely asked her to move, explaining quickly about my project. Her response was to silently get up, sit in one of the several booths, and immediately get back to her device. And voilà! There was my shot."
While cell phones have undeniably increased the velocity and breadth of communication (Becker captured these images with her iPhone, adding a meta layer to her work), she also provokes the viewer to remember the recent past and contemplate the advantages of yesterday's more constrained communication systems. Becker's work reminds us of the speed at which society embraces technological advances and suggests that we consider the consequences.
Though a whole generation has grown up with seemingly unlimited digital capabilities, many will still remember having to use dimes or quarters to place a call, the urgency to communicate within a limited time frame, as well as the intimacy provided by landlines. Pay phone calls were short, to the point, and rarely ignored. Becker's work suggests that today's unlimited bandwidth eliminates the need to consider our words and perhaps that screens have commodified our attention.
For Becker, photography is a way of observing and engaging with the world. She got her first cell phone in the `90s and began to doubt she would ever use a payphone again. "This is when I started to think that as cell phones became more popular, we would need fewer payphones," Becker says. "Fast forward about 10 years—I noticed payphones starting to become abandoned. I initially photographed abandoned payphones in black and white with my 35mm camera, but I thought they were just dull."
Remembering a play she read in high school called "Voice of the Turtle" by John Van Druten, about a young woman in New York City during World War II who oddly felt sorry for things like radios people no longer listened to, she was struck by the personification of abandoned phones. "This led me to thinking about photographing them as environmental portraits," she adds.
For her series "Dead Ringers: Portraits of Abandoned Payphones," Becker put aside her usual cameras, and used her iPhone camera. "The great thing about shooting this project with my iPhone is that I nearly always have it with me, so I can shoot the nonworking payphones anywhere I find them," she adds.
"What Is Lost" will be exhibited at Garage Gallery in Beacon from August 12–27. An opening reception will be held on August 12 from 4–7pm. Portfolio: Amybecker.com.