When we no longer need something, we stop paying attention to it. And when we stop paying attention to it, it begins to fade out in our active awareness. In time, it may become wholly invisible, transparent to the point of vanishing, despite not having actually changed.
This is a sort of inattentional blindness on the part of the observer.
With phones in the pockets of nearly everyone now, pay phones are vestigial organs of the urban organism. They’re tools of communication set fast in place, left over from a time before telephones learned to grow legs and walk around.
But in Japan, even in 2021, there are many more pay phones around than you’d expect, and their apparent quantity balloons wildly once you pay attention to them.
In 2015, I took a picture of a telephone booth in a small park near my old apartment. I liked the way its glow illuminated the tree next to it.
After I developed the film and finished the image, it occupied my mind persistently. It compelled me to seek out and photograph other phone booths with regularity.
I’m still photographing them. Every time I see one I like, no matter where I am, I take a picture with my phone and save the location for reference, with the sincere hope that I’ll be able to return later with a tripod and proper camera.
When I talk about this fascination with people in Japan, they’re surprised I can find any to photograph. I haven’t seen one in years, they’ll say, just before I point out the one in front of the building that they’ve walked past dozens of times.
After these conversations, I’ve had some people remark that they’ve begun to see phone booths everywhere they go. They say this with some amount of amazement, as if I’d caused phone booths to sprout like bamboo shoots back into the world.
If thousands of telephone booths can go from invisible to everywhere without actually changing, just imagine what else we’re not seeing, simply because we’ve never thought to look for it.