Click photo to see my full resolution, framed print and canvas versions of this photograph.
People often ask me why British telephone boxes feature many times in my work. I think it’s because I have a fear that one day I’ll wake up and hear that all the red telephone boxes in London have been removed. Almost everyone has a cellphone (in England and Europe we call them mobile phones) these days. The need for telephone boxes seems to be rapidly diminishing, and they are such an iconic British image it’ll be a real shame when the last telephone box is demolished.
This fine art print was composed when I came across these telephone boxes on Great Windmill Street in London and noticed that one was missing. A friend of mine suggested that perhaps telephone box usage had fallen by 25% in recent times, and that the powers that be had decided to get rid of a quarter of all telephone boxes as a result. I wondered then why they would get rid of one of the middle telephone boxes, and not one of the end ones. Humans do associate symmetry with beauty, after all.
The fact that something is missing, as in this case, always suggests to me that that’s a story to be told. It’s like when you see someone missing a front tooth. Perhaps the tooth was knocked out in a bar brawl with two suitors fighting to decide which of them secured the heart of a woman they both loved. Perhaps it was pulled out in a drunken prank during an unforgettable boozy night in Bangkok, or Amsterdam, or Las Vegas. Or perhaps the person missing the tooth just never flossed.
I’m glad I didn’t wait to take the photo until the two people to the right of the photo moved out of shot. The guy has something in his hand – I wonder if it’s a cellphone? It would perfect this shot if it was – the neglected items in the middle of the frame and one of the reasons for their neglect right there in front of them.
I’d always assumed that there was only one “classic” design for the red telephone box, but I discovered when doing my research for this article that there have been at least eight, all with subtle differences. The first was called the “K1” and was made out of concrete! It was introduced in 1920 and extremely few examples remain in use today, understandably. Later models were made from cast iron, and the most commonly found is the “K6” which was designed as long ago as 1935 to commemorate the silver jubilee of King George V. The boxes in my photograph are all K6s. It’s remarkable to discover the history behind something as mundane as a red telephone box.
Again, those with keen eyes may have noticed the blue plaque on the wall of the building behind the boxes. These blue plaques are erected by English Heritage to commemorate the birthplaces and residences of notable persons. This plaque sits on the back of the Lyric Theatre on Great Windmill Street in Soho and marks the birthplace of William Hunter, the great anatomist and physician. It was Hunter who helped build the anatomy theatre and museum in 1768 which is now part of the Lyric Theatre.
Red telephone boxes only have a few years to go before they reach their centenary. I sincerely hope I am not alone in hoping that they’ll make it.