As a subject, payphones are not new to me. For over three years I have been documenting them on my smartphone for my IG account @payphonesoflosangeles. About seven months into the project, I was introduced to the work of a gentleman by the name of Juan (alias the @screwyblooms is the subject of this 5 Frames). Juan “adorns” defunct payphones with head-turning art installations that often include a big bushy bouquet of brightly-colored faux flowers.
I am first and foremost a documentary filmmaker, and such an odd and unheralded subject sets my spidey senses tingling. I reached out to Juan through his hashtag and in short order had completed a one-minute documentary on his work. That jump-started what has now become a cherished friendship.
from busted to blooming
Juan has just one rule for each new install: “$8 or less on materials!” In fact, much of the stuff he’s used for his installations is the refuse of a past job at a Hollywood motion picture film lab. Rusty metal film canisters, colored plastic film cores, 35mm film leaders, even accordion-style electrical conduit have all featured prominently in past installs. Found objects such as calculators, bbq parts, rotary telephones, automotive water pumps, and disembodied motors from dishwashers and treadmills have all been given a new lease on life in a dead phone booth.
Juan estimates he’s installed around 70 works all over Los Angeles, but for this shoot we chose several recent installs in close proximity that could easily be rehabbed. Rehabbing past works is actually a ceaseless task for Juan. Besides the naturally degrading factor of exposure, his blooms are frequently vandalized, with burning being an oft-employed method of destruction.
a unique look for a unique subject
While I focus primarily on B&W with my film photography, I knew from the start this set had to be shot in color. But in considering commercially available stocks nothing really measured up to this unique subject. Then I remembered Warren, a teenage photographer/aspiring-chemist I had come across on IG who re-spools expired bulk film and develops himself in homemade chemistry based on recipes from photographic technical books. And to think at sixteen I was still worried about loading my Minolta X-700 correctly!
I reached out to Warren (@w.t.burton) about providing film and development for this set, and he was excited to be involved. Here is Warren himself on his part in bringing these images to life:
“I value character and risk in my work and, as such, am self-taught in ECN-2 processing. Through my own studies and trials, I’ve developed a modified recipe that increases the vividness of film stocks dramatically. Such a process begets visceral joy from the dedication required to mix color chemistry from raw powder. The stock we selected for this shoot is Kodak EASTMAN 200T 5293 – a tungsten-balanced motion picture film with an ISO of 200. I developed these rolls at 115F for 4:30. In my experience, 200T images render reminiscent of baroque paintings with discolored varnish.”
This was my first collaboration with Warren, and I could not be happier. This young man knocked it out of the park! (Also, he asked that I mention he is open to more collabs! DM @w.t.burton)
pulling out all the stops
Though I’ve been a loyal Minolta shooter for two decades, I wanted to do something a bit different here with the camera as well as the film which meant loading up my over-protected CONTAX S2b. The added benefit of using the C/Y Zeiss glass for this particular shoot is that it has a distinctly warmer tone to it than do my Minolta lenses – a quality I thought would complement the work of @screwyblooms nicely.
Initially, I imagined going with a super-wide angle of view to accentuate the oddity of Juan’s medium. But after a test shoot of regular old payphones I decided against this approach, instead sticking with a standard 50mm to soak in as much crisp detail as possible and allow Juan’s art — and the wonderful film and development mojo from @w.t.burton — to do the talking.
Thanks for reading.
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