Lifelines Throughout the US

Lifelines: Throughout the United States by Eric Kunsman is an ongoing photographic investigation of pay phones. The pay phones act as gateways into numerous communities and spaces throughout the country ranging from his home in Rochester, NY, to New Mexico, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania among others. The series examines the functionality of the pay phone, as something that continues to serve as a mode of communication and as a cultural artifact. Throughout the series we are given access to a collection of urban neighborhoods, open landscapes, and various interior spaces. Each photograph seemingly extends past its edges and stimulates the imagination to speculate on the space beyond.


Kunsman’s photographs utilize the pay phone as a touchstone from which he constructs a vision of a place. The presence of the pay phone determines what geographic location will be depicted. It’s impossible to resist the temptation to compare the different phones and their surrounding contexts as each bares specific traces of its use and history. Despite the urge to compare, each pay phone resonates uniquely with its surroundings. The subjects vary in positioning, distance, and level of visual activity, all of which is accentuated by their deliberate framing. The inclusion of subtle details in each space is evidence that Kunsman invests significant energy in bonding with each of these locations prior to creating these distinct portrayals.


This iteration of Lifelines: Throughout the US– on view at Gallery19 from September 4th-October 4th 2020–gathers images that are united by three recurring themes. First, is their correspondence with the descriptive language of a place, both textual and symbolic. Second, each threads an underlying narrative of travel as a form of connectivity. Third, they traverse the ambiguous space between public and private. All three of these channels are inherent in the artist’s interest in the pay phone as lifelines, tools that are still used, despite being considered outmoded by many.

Unknown Number- I-476 PA Turnpike

30 x 30 inches framed

Unknown Numbers- Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia, PA

30 x 30 inches framed

585.235.9156- Campis Restaurant- 205 Scottsville Road, Rochester, NY

30 x 30 inches framed

585.325.9301- Genesee Brewery, Building #6, Rochester, NY

30 x 30 inches

585.232.9376– World Wide News, 100 St. Paul St, Rochester, NY, builds a relationship between the pay phone and the language of the surrounding signage. The words news, domestic, and foreign resonate with the pay phone while framing it on a respectively large and looming scale. This correspondence calls into question how we receive information, and how it travels from one place to another, and one voice to another. The edges of the frame mark the word news with intention and weave together the personal analog of the pay phone, and the increasingly political associations of the word news.


Unknown Number- Superfund Site, Picher, OK, and 585.325.9301- Genesee Brewery, Building #6, Rochester, NY, are the remnants of pay phones that have been spray painted and written upon. The first is a structure and housing without a phone, and the stain left behind from a phone. They persistently reference the moment when they were rendered useless. The photographs encapsulate the idea of obsolescence while viewing the phone as a page that is being rewritten or written over.


Unknown Number- I-476 PA Turnpike is defined by a compelling tension between stillness and movement. The subdued activity in the tollbooth contrasts a wavering American flag that carries the eye into the space beyond the frame. In this image we see the link between verbal communication and physical travel via infrastructure. Road trip-based photography is a long-standing tradition in the US. Much of the imagery we see and perceive as visions of American are the work of photographers traveling and exploring the country by car. Subsequently, images made via road trip fuel peoples desire to travel and explore the country. Establishing the pay phone as a touchstone shows the connectivity between multiple channels of communication. Furthermore, this photograph embodies one of the strengths of the series, that these photographs consolidate space. Any combination of works from Lifelines is a set of potential calls, a shortcut from point a to point b. They allow for the coexistence of glances that viewers cannot experience directly. The distance and duration between photographs in a gallery is a fragment of what would be dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of miles.


585.232.9376– World Wide News, 100 St. Paul St, Rochester, NY

30 x 30 inches framed

Unknown Number- Outside Springfield, NY

30 x 30 inches framed

Unknown Number- Superfund Site, Picher, OK

30 x 30 inches framed

585.427.9761– Southtown Plaza, 3333 West Henrietta Road, Henrietta, NY

30 x 30 inches framed

Kunsman’s photographs highlight shifts in the way that people interact with a public space. The dichotomy between the public and private serve to uphold the mechanics of capitalism, standards of social interaction, and class structure. This collection of photographs finds pay phones on the edge of public or private space and considers their placement outdoors or inside as determining factors of accessibility. 585.235.9156- Campis Restaurant- 205 Scottsville Road- Rochester, NY, is in an ambiguous interior space one might associate with private property, while 585.427.9761– Southtown Plaza, 3333 West Henrietta Road, Henrietta, NY, foregrounds a pay phone that actively separates interior and exterior, each illuminated by abundant unsettling artificial light. All are transitory locations, meant to be passed through on the way to a destination.


Viewing Lifelines: Throughout the United States reminds me of a recent experience with a pay phone. It was a quiet night and I was walking alone through the building where I work. I came upon an extremely enticing discarded object. It was a three-ring binder laying open on what I initially saw as merely a shelf tucked into a corner. There was no visible content on the pages, just a manilla divider on the right and the backside of a page on the other. Upon looking through the pages, I discovered a set of industry specific instructions for the creation of signage. Specifically, signage to designate the border with either Canada or Mexico. It dictated the size of the lettering, the height that the text would need to be from the ground to be properly visible to both drivers and pedestrians, the material requirements for constructing the sign, and how to color coordinate bilingual text. I then comprehended that the binder was laying in the housing that once supported a pay phone. All that remained was a black bracket, brushed metal shelf, and faux wood housing with graffiti carved into its surface. Despite having passed by this pay phone bracket on numerous occasions, I had never fully comprehended its presence. What conversations occur between the shell of a pay phone and the handbook on border signage?



Ahmed Ozsever, 2020 (Curator)