Payphones Around the World

Travel Blog  •  Jim Benning  •  09.19.06 | 7:06 AM ET

chinapayphonePhotos by Jim Benning.

For many years now, I have had a habit during my travels that has puzzled people close to me. It’s not something I have talked about, and for a long time now, I have felt alone in my predilection for this activity. But today, I am coming clean: I like to photograph payphones. Specifically, foreign payphones. During my travels, I have snapped mediocre photos of payphones in the French Alps, on the Caribbean island of Aruba, in Mexico. I have photographed purple payphones backed by graceful pagodas in China, and blue payphones backed by vast jungle in Malaysia. I have taken photos of sandal-shod, saffron-robed Buddhist monks chatting on Thai payphones that looked like mini-temples—ideal places, I always thought, for reflective conversations. Of course, one might reasonably ask: Why do this?

imageFor starters, I’m odd. But I guess it’s also because I’m a sucker for the ways that everyday objects differ from country to country, and payphones have always struck me as one of the most public examples of that. They are remarkably varied in their design, and in some places, you can find them on every other corner.

Sadly, payphones’ days may be numbered thanks to the rise in cell phones—I didn’t break down and buy a cell phone until I realized several years ago that I could no longer find a functioning payphone in Southern California. Which to me makes payphones all the more compelling.

I admit all this now because I just discovered a Web site catering to people with my kind of phone fetish, The Payphone Project. The site began as a way to promote “random contacts among complete strangers” by publishing the numbers of payphones around the United States and encouraging people to call them. Over time, it has grown into a repository for stories about payphones and, happily, photos of payphones around the globe, from Uganda to Antarctica.

It’s a fun site. I’ll be offering up my photos to the site soon—and yes, proudly.

(Via Vagablogging.)

3 Comments for Payphones Around the World

Kelly 09.19.06 | 10:48 AM ET

Interesting Jim, I look forward to your photos. It’s funny, because just the other day my dad asked me what the payphones were like when I was traveling in Europe.  Since I didn’t carry a cellphone, I actually had lots to tell him: about getting stuck inside a Paris booth once, about the daily quests to actually locate phones, and about the range of odd shapes and colors, like hot pink or sea blue, that sometimes helped me track one down. I’m guessing the payphone companies paint them bright on purpose these days, so they are easier to find? (The color did not always help, they really are a dying breed.)

Jim 09.19.06 | 7:59 PM ET

Great, Kelly. And I suspect you’re right about the payphone colors. Hopefully bright colors will help their survival!


Justin 09.20.06 | 5:04 PM ET

Let me know when you get them posted, Jim.

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