My Back Pages

Allen Rabinowitz (2003)


Allen Rabinowitz describes his project this way:

Over the years, I have dropped my share of quarters into photo booth coin slots to capture what Cartier-Bresson called the “decisive moment;” or, more properly in my usual situation, the “extreme moment of goofiness.” It’s always amazed me how sitting in the booth frees up the soul and allowing an opportunity to capture a very real image of the subject at that particular moment.

A number of these photos still exist, and remind me of who I was and where I was at when the picture was taken, more so than any more formal photographic efforts. I’m sorry that I either lost or disposed of photo booth portraits of me and various girlfriends from my teen years. These black and white images were the only tangible relics of what were a few of the more adventuresome and naively romantic moments of my earlier days. I can still recall a particular make-out session capturing the essential nature of teenage lust taking place in the confines of the booth, The Tommy James song “I Think We’re Alone Now” serves as the soundtrack for this erotic mental cinema in which the young lady and I expressed and celebrated both the exhibitionism and tender privacy of our activity. I can recollect the way the girl looked in those photos more than any other time in the few months we dated.

In 1999, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which soon led to my inability to work full time. One of the side effects of my medication was insomnia, and in an attempt to do something constructive with my sleepless nights, I became obsessed with the joys and wonder of Photoshop. This has developed into an art form I call “digital primitive folk art.” I use existing imagery—actual photos, digital imagery or images from the internet—and manipulate and/or enhance them to create a much different picture.

The discovery of a cache of old photo booth photos led to me experimenting with a few of them and used six images to create a self-portrait titled “My Back Pages.” The piece provides an interesting glimpse of how I pictured myself 37 years ago at the age of 19. The pictures are before and after shots with and without a moustache, shaven off that afternoon in what at the time was a significant statement about breaking up with a girl I was deeply in love with. Somehow, the lighting was brighter in the after pictures, giving a true sense of transformation. At any rate, there’s a “bad hombre” attitude attached to the pictures with the facial hair, and a more relaxed, happier presence in the latter pictures.

Joe Jackson has a song called “19 Forever,” in which the lead character berates his comrades for growing up and becoming responsible adults, while he pledges never to change from the all-knowing holy fool that every 19 year old boy is at heart and in reality. These photo booth moments capture me in a way which strips away the illusions a more formal posing would have created by peering past the mask of omnipotence to show both the fear and joy of being at the crossroads of the boy I was and the man I would become. Thanks to a pocketful of quarters and the photo booth in the corner of the five and dime, I am 19 forever.

Contributed by and © 2003 Allen Rabinowitz