December 16, 2008

For a few years now, we’ve been keeping our eyes out for images from Paul Fejos’ seminal silent film Lonesome, the story of a man and woman who meet, fall in love, become separated, and finally reunited, all in the same day. I’d had a tip from our friend Klaas that the film had a photobooth sequence in it, and finally had a chance to see the film a few years ago, but just this month, I’ve finally managed to get ahold of some images from the film to add to our list the film that has, to my knowledge, the earliest appearance of a photobooth in cinema.

The photobooth, labeled “Auto Photo,” produces a single photo in a circular disc, a product that a number of different photobooth companies were providing at the time. The photo is produced nearly instantaneously in the film, creating a precedent that nearly every film since has followed, as editors ignore the photochemical reality and show the photostrips appearing just seconds after the photos were taken. Lonesome also sets the pattern for the use of the photobooth photo in the narrative structure of the film. First, it is a symbol of the love the two share, a memento of Coney Island, where they met. Later in the film, when they’ve become separated, both Mary and Jim use their photos of each other to show a carnival worker, asking if he’s seen their lost love. And finally, at the end of the film, Jim pulls out his tiny photo of Mary and looks at it longingly, convinced that he has lost the girl he fell in love with that day.

Look at the still images from the film to get a better sense of how the images fit into the movie as a whole. And if you ever have a chance to see the film screened — prints do circulate, both in the United States and Europe — I recommend it highly, not just for the photobooth sequence, but for its compelling and magical artistry. It really is silent cinema at its best.

November 30, 2008

A weekend visit to San Diego was a bit of a disappointment in terms of functioning photochemical photobooths out in the wild, but it wasn’t a complete loss. First, the bad news: the photobooth at the Corvette Diner has indeed been replaced with a digital booth, and the photobooths at the Waterfront, U 31 and the Ruby Room are all digital. The two photobooths at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park are still there, but both were out of order during my visit. The photobooth at the Beauty Bar is also no longer there, which leaves a pretty poor verdict for real photobooths in San Diego. If anyone knows of any we’ve missed, please let us know; we’d love to hear some good news.


The saving grace of our visit was a chance to see photographer Tim Mantoani’s beautiful Model 9 photobooth, which lives in his San Diego studio and is occasionally used for photo shoots and parties.


Tim was kind enough to take time out of his holiday weekend to meet me and let me have a look at the booth — it’s a real beauty, in great working order, and is complete with the top sign, two different sets of advertising inserts for the wraparounds, and the operating manuals.


We first came across Tim’s work in early 2005, when we noted his photobooth-like photoshoot for the 2005 Pro Bowl in Sports Illustrated. We’ve been in touch since, and were happy to have the opportunity to see his photobooth in person. Thanks again, Tim.


We’ve also made a few new additions to our Movies & TV section:

First, filling in a gap in the decades for the 1950s (we now have booth appearances in every decade from the 1920s to the present, save the 1930s…and I know there’s got to be a ’30s musical with a booth out there somewhere…), we’ve got Vincente Minnelli’s The Band Wagon, starring Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, and, briefly, a Photomatic photobooth.

Gus Van Sant is in the news thanks to his recent release Milk, Nicole Kidman for her turn in Australia, and Joaquin Phoenix for vowing to be done with acting; once upon a time, they were all working together, in a photobooth, in To Die For.

Further back, we added scenes from a Swedish ski vacation comedy, Snowroller, a Hong Kong shoot-’em-up called Fong juk, Robert Altman’s classic interpretation of the Philip Marlowe story The Long Goodbye, and Agnes Varda’s gritty story of a roaming vagabond, Sans toit ni loi. Four more different films it would be challenging to find, but they all share a photobooth in common.

On the television front, we’ve also had some recent additions: first, some TV shows that feature pseudo-photostrips in their opening credit sequences, The Ex List and ‘Til Death.

Thanks to Klaas, we also added an old episode of the now-defunct Charmed, and thanks to Stephanie, a first-season episode of Pushing Daisies. Another new TV season also seems to always bring a photostrip appearance in a pilot episode; this year it’s The Mentalist.

October 07, 2008


The Baltimore Sun features a story today about two unlikely friends who met as rookies at the Baltimore Colts training camp in 1955: Raymond Berry, who would win Super Bowls with the Colts and later coach the Patriots to one in 1985, and Leroy Vaughn, who would leave football after a season and become best known as the father of a baseball MVP, Mo Vaughn. They reconnected after 50 years when Berry rediscovered the photo in his belongings. They had taken the photo during their rookie year in the league.

Back then, racism was still rampant in America. Had the picture been taken in the deep South — had a white man and a black man entered a coin-operated photo booth, shared the single stool and closed the curtain — there would have been hell to pay.

But it was during a road trip to Chicago or New York that two first-year players stepped into a Woolworth’s, spent a quarter and forged their friendship on a wallet-sized keepsake.

The photograph featured in the article is definitely a Photomatic, looking at its tell-tale frame, with Berry appearing slightly out of focus for sitting too close to the lens. It’s a great, evocative photo, even if we had no idea who the men were or what their story was.

Last year, when Berry finally tracked him down, Vaughn was stunned to hear his voice.

I was tickled to death to get the call,” Vaughn said from his home in Virginia. “We’re going to get together [soon] this summer, to sit around and reminisce.”

Berry, for one, can’t wait.

It’s been a long, long time,” he said. “I think we’ll probably laugh a lot.”

Surely they will record their friendship again.

Said Vaughn: “We’ll find one of those old photo booths and have another picture taken — 53 years later.”

Well, gentlemen, you know where to come to find your nearest “old photo booth” location, so good luck!

Photomatic photo, Raymond Berry and

September 24, 2008

trl_photobooth.jpgFrom a Gothamist piece this week we learn that MTV is finally shutting down TRL, a.k.a Total Request Live, that staple of the early millennial teen zeitgeist, and the reason America got to know Carson Daly, for better or worse.

TRL’s photobooth, an honest-to-goodness photochemical booth in the land of digital everything, produced thousands of strips commemorating the visits of musicians, actors, athletes, and all-purpose celebrities, many of which were cataloged in the 2002 book TRL Photobooth. Pick up a copy of the book to check out the photos, or browse through the ones collected online at

Our question now is, “Where are those photostrips going?” Hopefully, they’ll end up saved in the MTV archive, or put on display in another MTV building, but let’s hope they don’t get tossed out with the set.

TRL photobooth wall” photo by Jen Carlson,

September 23, 2008

In July, we noted an upcoming show of photobooth photos in Hamburg, Germany, called Wait Until Dry, with photos from the collection of contributor Klaas Dierks as well as two other artists. Klaas has sent in photos from the show as well as an account of the event:

We decided to present 22 frames with series of booth pix that were on one hand arranged rather freely on the grounds of similarity and/or difference, and on the other hand overviews over people during different times, say the 30s, 40s, 60s, 70s.

We also had a series depicting the same person over a period from 1929–1944 in 14 photos. All in all we showed approximately 220 photobooth pix out of a collected 4000.


From left to right: Irina Ruppert, Klaas Dierks, Sven Heckmann selecting the photos for the exhibition


Opening night at the “Raum für photographie.”


View of the exhibition venue



Thanks to Klaas for the photos, and we encourage anyone else involved in a photobooth show or anyone who attends one to send us photos and tell us all about it.

Brian | 10:31 pm | Art, Projects
September 14, 2008


We’re ending Book Week with an oldie but a goodie, the catalog for the ground-breaking group show called “Photomaton: A Contemporary Survey of Photobooth Art,” which took place at the Pyramid Arts Center in Rochester, New York more than twenty years ago, in the winter of 1987–88. The catalog has been somewhat hard to come by, and copies show up on eBay on average maybe once a year in the four years we’ve been paying attention, usually running around $100 a copy. I managed to pick up a copy for about twenty bucks in August, just in time to bring everyone a closer look at it.

Having not seen one of these catalogs before, the first thing that struck me about it was its size; it’s not a full-size 8.5″ x 11″ publication; it’s more like 7″ x 8.5″, no taller than it needs to be to fit one scale photostrip vertically on the page. Featuring work on the front cover by Herman Costa and on the back cover by Jef Aerosol, the catalog samples the work of thirteen photobooth artists, with images and biographies of each artist.

Curator and artist Bern Boyle wrote a preface to the catalog in which he explains the exhibition.

This exhibit was designed as an overview, and does not include all photobooth artists, or all of the photobooth works of the exhibiting artists. But it is quite a beginning, and in addition to calling attention to the artists whose works are shown here, it should encourage other exhibits and stimulate historical research.

Indeed, it was quite a beginning, and the intervening years have seen many photobooth-related exhibitions and, as we’ve seen this week, much historical research.

The catalog continues with a brief essay titled “Photobooth History and Development,” also by Boyle, which begins with the history of coin-operated vending machines and passes through Mathew Steffens, “Monsieur Enjalbert,” and Anatol Josepho, all familiar names in the development of the technology. Boyle mentions Warhol’s role in using the photobooth in the creation of art, and continues by discussing the techniques and interests of each of the artists in the show.


The show came at a time when photobooths seemed to be on the wane, but before the digital revolution that would be their most serious threat. Boyle writes

There are still streamlined, curved photobooths around producing strips of four black and white pictures, but many machines are being converted to color or abandoned for the square-format color machines. We now have machines that will videotape you and your friends and machines that will give you a roll of 35mm film ready to process, instead of the traditional photos!

Each artist is given a page that includes a sample self-portrait photostrip, their birth date and place of residence, as well as an artist’s statement. Sample work from selected artists is featured next, followed by a selected bibliography.


We hope you’ve enjoyed Book Week; here’s a link to all of the entries in case you missed any. I started it a little haphazardly and had only planned to write about two or three books, but when I looked around, I realized there were more works out there that I hadn’t given proper attention to, enough to flesh out a full seven days’ worth of posts. Please let us know what you think of the books if you pick up copies for yourselves, and we’d appreciate any tips on more works not in our Photobooths In Print section.

Brian | 8:38 pm | Art, History
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.

September 12, 2008

We’re expanding the scope of Book Week to include not only new and recent works, but works that are new to us; in this case, two recently acquired exhibition catalogs of work by the best-known photobooth artist working today, Liz Rideal.


The catalog for Rideal’s “Photobooth Collages” show at the Photographers’ Gallery in London in 1990 is a small, square volume that features images of Rideal’s work along with an essay about her work, her process, and her interests by David Chandler.


For the most part, the works contained in Collages are representative, with subjects ranging from a strawberry (“Spring,” in a four seasons project) to a woman holding her finger to her mouth in “Shhhh…” One of the most interesting items in the show is a nearly ten foot-long adaptation of five bars of Purcell’s “The Fairy Queen” from his 1692 autograph score. Not only are the staffs, bars, and notes recreated with abstract black shapes on a white background, but every once in awhile, Rideal’s hand is visible at the top of an eighth note or the bottom of a bar line, reminding the viewer of the scale of the piece and of its origin in the photobooth.


Eleven years later, in March of 2001, Rideal opened a show called “Stills” at Lucas Schoormans Gallery in New York City, and the catalog for that show provides a look at a very different stage in Rideal’s career.


Most of the pieces presented in the catalog are large (3′ x 4′) grids of color photostrips depicting flowers, plants, and other items on color backgrounds. Some pieces are enlargements of just a few frames from a pair of photostrips, but all of them share a sense of repetition and abstraction.


The catalog includes two essays, by Norman Bryson and Charles Darwent, that explore Rideal’s inspirations, her technique, and her significance.

What happens, then, when the products of the photo-booth are tranposed to the domain of art?” asks Bryson. “For that is Liz Rideal’s opening move, one whose extraordinary consequence her work continues to trace. It is as though the split between official propriety and secret dissidence were now elaborated and amplified, made deeper and more complex, on the gallery walls.”


Brian | 12:17 pm | Art
September 11, 2008


More than two years ago, we mentioned a recent book by the photobooth artist Jan Wenzel titled Fotofix. I didn’t yet have a copy of the book, but promised a review as soon as I got ahold of one. Well, the book came quickly, but the review, obviously, did not.

Better late than never, I say, and don’t let our tardiness in getting to the book encourage you to do the same; Fotofix is a phenomenal collection of some of the most awe-inspiring photobooth art you’ll ever see. Wenzel takes the familiar confines of the photobooth and slowly explodes them with a series of images made up of four or five (or more) photostrips laid next to one another. From the first image, a dresser floating on a green background in five photostrips, through to an entire room rendered in eight parallel photostrips, the reader is left in awe of Wenzel’s absolute control over the space a photobooth affords, and his creativity and ingenuity in conceiving and executing his constructions.


In an excellent essay that opens the book, titled “From the Garbage into the Booth — Or: Instant Pictures of Topsyturvy Everyday Life,” Wenzel tells of how photobooths first came to East Germany after the fall of the wall and the reunification of Germany. The machines got an unprecedented amount of use because “just about everyone needed new photos for passports and I.D. cards, while those who had already been made redundant by the first summer after German Reunification needed pictures for their job-application forms.”

The book is really a must for any photobooth enthusiast; it’s difficult to express the sense of incredulity you get looking through some of the images Wenzel has created, and the work is a testament to the versatility and power of the photobooth. The book is widely available through online booksellers, and is well worth checking out.


September 10, 2008


As Book Week continues, we bring you another invaluable work from Italy, Professor Federica Muzzarelli’s 2003 work, Formato tessera: Storia, arte e idee in photomatic. Muzzarelli, who is a professor of the History of Photography at the University of Bologna, has written a book that covers the story of photobooths from all angles: the history of portrait photography, the role of the photobooth in the creation of art, the photobooth’s place in popular culture, and the digital future of photobooths, among many other topics.


Without fluent Italian skills, our understanding of the book is naturally less than complete, but a rough translation of the chapter headings, a perusal of the plentiful and wide-ranging sources cited in footnotes, and a glance at the excellent illustrations — from early carte de visites to Marcello Mastroianni, from Duchamp to Benetton ads — make it clear that Muzzarelli’s work is the most rigorous academic survey of the history and significance of the photobooth that we have yet seen.


We hope the book will eventually receive an English translation; until then, it is available for purchase through a variety of online retailers. Thanks to Professor Muzzarelli for her work on this excellent resource, and for getting in touch with us here to share Formato tessera with us.