Pay phones—defunct, often crumbling, not-in-service. Some have become their own forms of artwork covered in stickers and graffiti, often politically charged. Others remain as relics in their communities, outfitted as a nod to the symbols of communication culture and its ever-changing nature. Brian Louderback, owner of Top of the Town (a bar and nightclub supply business), has found his passion photographing pay phones in Sacramento and beyond. “I’ve always kind of been obsessed with obsolete, defunct and especially industrial types of imagery,” he says. “I’m also obsessed with the passage of time.”
Pay phones are a generational marker—something some of us clearly recall using regularly to return pages from a beeper or call parents from school. Today, cellphones have abolished almost every need for the pay phone, but the (typically) broken-down booths exist in more places than you’d think.
Louderback has posted images of faded booths left without a phone and covered in graffiti in West Sac, an intact one at the train station in Old Roseville, decorated with the simple words “luv you mom,” and a phone-shaped piece of art at a Sacramento Jack in the Box. “They look beautiful,” Louderback says. “A glass booth always has a million stories and lives touched.”
The idea that pay phones would completely disappear encouraged Louderback to start snapping photos. Researching his great-grandfather, who owned an illegal card room in Petaluma, led Louderback to his favorite pay phone to date: a walk-in glass booth there, illuminated by a pink dome light. “I imagine my great-grandfather using it,” he says.
Another notable find, on Highway 116 in Sonoma, is a British-style booth comical residents have outfitted with a Superman costume.
Louderback also follows tips and posts submissions from Instagram followers, which creates an admittedly odd juxtaposition between old communication and new. “Trying to explain my vision and love for the phone is just impossible,” Louderback says. “It had to be visual.”
You can check out Louderback’s images on Instagram @chatta_bings.