Thanks to Meags Fitzgerald for this, our first ever Photobooth.net Guest Post:
I’m back and settled in after a three and half week photobooth-themed trip to Europe. For a few months I’ve been researching material for a graphic novel I’m writing & illustrating about photobooths, Photobooth, A Biography. I’ve been following photobooths during my travels for years now, including a trip to Europe in 2009, so I was uncertain how much more I would learn for the book on this trip. Any hesitancy I had was quickly cleared up as this trip proved to be a gold mine of information and adventures.
I started by seeing the art exhibition Derrière le Rideau: L’esthétique Photomaton in Brussels. This is the same show that opened in Lausanne, Switzerland in February and will be in Vienna in the fall. It was this exhibit that spurred the whole idea for the trip. I spent one full day in the exhibit, studying each work and making notes.
La Joyeuse de Photographie (Camille and Igor) installed a black and white booth at the gallery and while I was there it never seemed to get a break. This is the only booth in Belgium, and it has been such a hit that rumor has it that it will stay at the gallery permanently.
Next I headed to Paris, where I stayed with my friend Marion, who helped me immensely with the gaps in my French. I did go to French immersion school when I was little, but as it turns out that that level of education is only helpful if you need to have conversations about school supplies or need permission to go to the water fountain. Marion and I were true photobooth detectives; we visited every Paris location listed on Photobooth.net. We found that about half of the listings are no longer there and uncovered a few that haven’t been listed yet.
Highlights in Paris included an interview I did with one of the curators of Derriere le Rideau, Clement Cheroux. Clement works for the Centre Pompidou and to my surprise, when I arrived there I saw this mural on the wall adjacent to the gallery. The high contrast style and little red arrow looked familiar to me, and sure enough I knew of the artist. The mural is by Jef Aerosol who had several pieces in the exhibition at the International Photobooth Convention this May.
Digital photobooths can be found everywhere in Europe because the photos can still be used for passports and driver’s licenses. I was surprised by the slickness of this digital model, so much so that I couldn’t help but use it, despite my general aversion towards digital. I found out later that it was designed by French superstar designer Starck. His concept was that the seat is the heart of the machine, so the light within it slowly pulses, which effectively lures you towards the machine. (It worked in my case.)
Another highlight was a booth that was made by Eddy from Fotoautomat France last year for the photography exhibition/convention in Arles, France. It now lives (supposedly permanently) in Les Forum des Images in central Paris. The booth has a higher ceiling than usual and no backing. Unfortunately Eddy was out of town when I visited and it was out of order so I didn’t get to use it. It’s still a gorgeous machine though.
In Paris I visited all the booths by La Joyeuse de Photographie and met up with Camille for an interview. It’s sorta funny to use their booths, which all come from my homeland, Canada. I also met with artist Marc Bellini and he filled me in on some interesting projects he’s got on the go.
Next I went to Amsterdam and made an excursion out of the city to visit Peter and Ina’s collection of vintage American arcade machines. They are amazing people and their collection is stellar. They have a beautifully restored Model 11, which they’ve altered slightly to take digital photos, but in the future it can be switched back to take chemical photos again.
I was told that there are no wet chemical booths operating in the Netherlands and this largely has to do with restrictions on the chemicals, which cause health problems. The chemicals are too difficult to purchase and bring into the country, and furthermore it’s expensive and difficult to safely dispose of the chemicals. It’s because of this that I thought there wouldn’t be much to see in this part of Europe… I was wrong.
On my last day in Amsterdam I impulsively decided to visit the Prontophot warehouse, a two hour train and bus ride away from the city. I knew that the company has been all digital for seven years, so initially I didn’t plan on visiting, but then I got word that they had a few old rare models. By the time I got there it was after closing but Peter (a different Peter) happily stayed late to talk with me for a few hours. They had an old American Model 11, which was funny to see with Dutch signage. The real gem though was this Fotoautomat Model 9 from Zurich from 1963. The booth is huge and extremely heavy. Peter told me it was the only intact model left in the world. It also appeared in the 1998 film, Left Luggage. I did an illustration of it for my Photobooth Portrait series, which you can see here.
Next I headed to the South of France to interview Les Matons, an artist couple in Nimes. I really enjoyed talking to them about their approach to their practice and was fascinated by the scale of the projects they’ve done with photobooth pictures. From Nimes I went to Arles, a small town with a large photography exhibition/convention.
I heard through the grape vine that Fotoautomat France installed another specially designed booth at the convention again this year, I visited it a few times. While walking around town I saw a few of these large prints of photobooth pictures glued onto walls. By chance, the last time I went to visit the booth I bumped into the technician, whose name also coincidentally happens to be Peter. We chatted about technical stuff and I asked him if he knew what the posters were about. They’re part of a project by the well-known French artist JR.
I’ve since looked up his work and this project Inside Out and I’m totally amazed by it and would like to participate myself.
Next I headed to Florence, where there are two booths by two different companies. It was super hot in Italy and so I couldn’t help but be curious about what the heat does to the water, chemicals and mechanics of the booth. The poster on this booth, which gets direct sunlight was essentially melted.
While in Florence I met with Matteo of Fotoautomatica, who has restored and operates several booths in Italy. I was awed by his artisanal craftsmanship, his booth was meticulously clean and expertly constructed.
From there I visited a small town, Cesena, to visit a Canadian booth at a photography studio. I stayed with the nicest photobooth lovers you could find, Michele and Cristina. I had a few more plans that fell apart at the last minute, partially due to language barriers and because in August everyone in Italy apparently goes on vacation.
I came back to Halifax with a whole lot of insight and a bunch of goodies too. My suitcase got pretty heavy by the end, especially with books. Now I’m preparing to temporarily relocate to Chicago to do an internship with A&A Studios. From there I’ll make trips to New York and to Vermont to visit Nakki Goranin. After that, in theory the research for my book should be finished… though I have this nagging thought in the back of my head that I should really try to sneak in a visit to England, Germany and Austria in 2013. We’ll see!