September 13, 2008


As we near the end of Book Week, we’re taking a look at another excellent recent photobooth book from Europe, Irene Stutz’s Das Einfränklerimperium. We covered the book when it was released in December of last year, but it deserves another look now that we have a copy (thanks again to Irene and Tobias for getting the book across the ocean to me).

The book, which originated from Stutz’s thesis project for a visual communications degree from Zurich University of the Arts, tells the history of Schnellphoto AG, the Swiss photobooth company that ran photobooths around the country for more than four decades.

Through essays, photographs, and interviews, Stutz tells the story of Christoph and Martin Balke, the brothers who ran Schnellphoto, from the 1960s until 2007, when the photochemical booths were phased out. Not only is the book a comprehensive history of the company, and of a nation’s relationship with its photobooths, but it contains a stunning series of mostly black-and-white photographs of not only the photobooths themselves, but of everything that made up the world of the photobooths: offices, manuals, equipment, spare parts, maps, charts, letters, and files. Stutz comprehensively documents the world of equipment, paper, and machinery that helped Schnellphoto design, manage, repair, and market the photobooths.

If you are interested in learning about how a photobooth works, and want to learn about the dying art of running a photobooth business, this book is a must, and Stutz’s photos are not only technically and historically illuminating, but they are beautiful portraits in their own right.


The book also includes hundreds of photobooth photos, most in that uniquely Swiss horizontal orientation, as well as advertisements, newspaper articles, cartoons, and other ephemera related to the booths. My German is a little better than my Italian, so the text is a little more comprehensible than in some of the other works I’ve profiled this week, and they are fascinating, on everything from the components of the company — the factory, the patent, the machinery, the paper, and chemicals that combine to make a photobooth — to the role of the photobooth in creating friendships, and the place of the photobooth in the digital world.


The book is widely available online, and is well worth seeking out. It is a testament to Stutz’s devotion to these booths, and to her talent as a photographer and writer, and will stand as the definitive story of photobooths in Switzerland. Let’s hope enthusiasts in other countries are inspired to create similar histories of their own.


Visit the website for the book for more information.

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