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Toronto Globe & Mail 7/23/2005
by Karen Larocca


Call it the new karaoke. The old-fashioned photo booth is the latest hit among party posers

They've been amusing preteen girls for decades. Now, photo booths -- those $2 wonders often found in the corners of food courts -- are moving up and out of the mall.

The old-fashioned booth is fast becoming a regular on the party circuit, thanks to its fun factor and its ability to dispense one-of-a-kind favours. Like so many trends, this one has its roots in Hollywood (Jamie Lee Curtis rented one for a birthday party and Quentin Tarantino has one installed in his home), but expect to see it soon at a bat mitzvah near you.

On the small screen, red-carpet coverage for both Entertainment Tonight and eTalk Daily regularly includes "candid" celebrity photo-booth snaps from awards shows and parties. And at the recent Live8 concert in Barrie, Ont., a photo booth was there for the fans to record the event.

The Live8 booth was provided by Auto-Photo Canada, a Montreal-based company whose primary business is still outfitting malls. It has recently found a secondary market renting to Sweet 16 parties, graduations, fundraisers and corporate conferences. Call it the new karaoke.

Aside from sheer entertainment value, photo booths allow guest and host alike to capture unique instant memories in simple strips of pictures, all for a mere couple of bucks. (Rental of the machines will set you back $1,500 minimum; call 1-800-663-6661 for information). And while booths haven't yet usurped the traditional wedding photographer, Auto-Photo has equipped weddings in Banff, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. Last year, it rigged out Strathcona Academy's Class of 1954 50th high-school reunion in Montreal.

"A lot of the people renting booths have those nostalgic memories from when they were young," owner George Grostern says. "Now, they're coming back to share that experience with their own children. A lot of new mothers are taking photos regularly in the booths as their kids grow up."

While photo booths have provided pop culture with some memorable moments -- in 1978, Clark Kent (a.k.a. Christopher Reeves) changed into Superman in a booth supplied by Auto-Photo -- they have seemed largely forgotten in recent years. Now, they're popping up everywhere, in ads for birth-control pills and chewing gum, boutique hotels (the one in Toronto's Drake Hotel snaps a steady stream of tipsy partiers) as well as films such as the recent Ashton Kutcher flick A Lot Like Love.

Tapping directly into the wedding industry is Mark Klein of Photobooth Scrapbooks, a company based in Scottsdale, Ariz. ( Along with a photo booth, his company supplies a "scrapbook co-ordinator" who arranges for wedding guests to add personal notes to the photos to create special keepsakes for the bride and groom.

His customers, like most of Grostern's, prefer machines that shoot black-and-white film. Even the colourful Cirque de Soleil insisted on an old-school booth for its Christmas party last year.

The business world is catching up, too, renting photo booths to amp up the "party" atmosphere at corporate events.

"Normally," Klein says, "you'll get people into your tradeshow booth, and give away candy, T-shirts, whatever, and hand them your propaganda and hope they'll remember your company two weeks from now." His company ensures a branding opportunity by adding the company's logo to the photo paper in advance.

Chris Houston, marketing manager for DK Publishing in Canada, rented a photo booth for the recent Book Expo in Toronto, hoping to enliven the company's presence and promote a photo contest it was holding.

"There is an interactive charm with a photo booth that's as nostalgic as it is plain fun," Houston says. "It was a big hit. There's something undeniably tempting about looking at photo-booth pictures. It's a great human moment."

Contributed by Brian