9 Jun 2024

A View From A Bridge: Strangers reveal all on old telephone

From Culture 101, 2:05 pm on 9 June 2024

Joe Bloom

Joe Bloom Photo: Supplied

If you were to speak into an old telephone - what would you say?

London-based artist, Joe Bloom has been finding out. A View From A Bridge offers strangers passing by the opportunity to look out onto the water and speak into an old-fashioned chunky red telephone - sharing their inner thoughts, feelings and observations. 

Speaking to Culture 101’s Perlina, Bloom says, “I wanted to showcase people and their stories in a way that doesn’t feel intrusive.”

The artist has been inspired by the seminal Humans of New York which was among the first projects to bridge the gap between social media and social art projects. While there are countless spin-offs of strangers being interviewed on the street, Bloom doesn’t feel they have the style or substance he’s been looking for. 

The video begins with a close-up of the person. As they start speaking, the camera begins zooming out. Eventually they blend in with the people and traffic around them. Connected to the phone through his earbuds, Bloom stands 500 metres away with his camera.

From pondering the privilege of infrastructure, a Tourette's syndrome diagnosis and the state of cinema, to questioning one’s sense of belonging and the relentless work of raising a child amidst a world of war and brutality, the range of stories and musings are diverse, intimate, revealing and poignant. 

It’s about taking the time to listen. 

“Listening isn’t really part of our social media discourse anymore - it’s much more visual and it’s a cut every two seconds to keep the viewer interested.”

But don’t call him a ‘content creator’.

Bloom despises that description and wanted to make something which “didn’t feel like the content that you put into the tube that gets inserted into your head.”

It’s less about what each person does for a job and more what they think about.

“What encompasses their brain? What do they lead their life by and how does that relate to the brain and the people around me?”, explains Bloom. 

The bridge is both symbolic and practical. 

“It’s someone in transit. It’s a place where people are walking through and thinking about where they are going.

“I thought of benches or a chair - a place where people could talk but feel as though they weren’t talking to anyone in particular.”

It’s also unlikely the person will be interrupted or intersected if they’re leaning against the side of the bridge and staring out. 

As for the telephone, similar to the bridge, there’s an element of romanticism. 

In a world of smartphones, scrolling, endless chat groups, voice notes - the magic in picking up the telephone for a conversation is disappearing. It’s created barriers and for some, speaking on the phone can be daunting. 

“A lot of people don’t get that experience anymore - to hold an actual handset that you grip with your entire hand - you don’t hold it flat to your ear - and that in itself creates this pretext of romanticism and something different.”

Bloom is of the generation which still had landlines in the household. His mother collected antiques including a red Bakelite phone which served as inspiration for A View From A Bridge.

‘But wasn’t it beautiful’ - Joe Bloom

‘But wasn’t it beautiful’ - Joe Bloom Photo: Supplied

Typically known for his large-scale vivid and detailed oil paintings, this video series is a departure from the artist’s usual work but he’ll endeavour to keep both sides of his practice. 

With almost 250,000 followers on the Instagram account devoted to this project, putting strangers on the line, clearly speaks to people. Giving them a chance to share snippets from their lives has brought extraordinary moments. 

“Everyone’s real. We’re all these intricate beings. It’s so easy to live in our own heads and think how special we are, but it’s incredibly sobering that anyone you could have walked past is just like you in the depth of their brain.”

The project is currently based in London but there are plans for a UK tour from August. 

Along with the cities, his team will also be venturing to the regions. 

“As long as there’s a plank of wood over a stream - that’s a bridge to me so we’re going to get really creative with the locations and we’re going to go to some really remote places as well.

“There’s always going to be a bridge and someone with a story.”