January, 2008

January 18, 2008


More European photobooth news this week, as we’ve belatedly posted a little information about a recent project undertaken by Sleep Club, a.k.a. artists Dell Stewart and Adam Cruickshank, at Takt Gallery in Berlin. Simply put, they

…made some flocked Schlaf Klub tshirts and wore them while we slept in six different Photoautomats in Berlin. We took a lot of pictures and made this little installation as a result.

Check out more pictures of the beautiful and gigantic blown-up photostrips on their website. Thanks to Adam for letting us know about the project.

January 09, 2008

We’re continually struggling against the tide of New Yorkers here at West, never quite reaching that magic place where we’re ready for the newest issue when it comes, so it took until this week to make it to the December 24 & 31, 2007, issue. The Books article, titled “Visual Trophies,” by John Updike, focuses on the history of snapshots in America, which he describes through a review of the book The Art of the American Snapshot 1888–1978, the catalog for an exhibition of the same name at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.


It’s an interesting piece, and the exhibition and catalog sound intriguing for anyone with an interest in the history of photography as told through amateur, vernacular, anonymous photos. Somewhat strangely, though wonderfully, the article is illustrated with a half-page photo of a beautiful old photobooth, photographed by Harvey Stein, with a woman’s bare legs visible where the curtain should be. Below the large photo are five smaller portraits: four photobooth photos and one photo which might typically be called a snapshot. While we were excited to see photobooths so prominently featured, the article has precious little to do with photobooths at all, and we were left wanting a little more. 

Updike follows the history of the snapshot as it is laid out in the book, and when dealing with writer Sarah Kennel’s section on 1920–1939 (titled “Quick, Casual, Modern”), he describes the way the easy-to-use cameras that were becoming commonplace at this time made all sorts of photos possible:

A number of somewhat racy exposures hint at the camera’s significant role as a de-inhibitor, an enabler of what Kennel calls “home-grown pornography.” Nudes in provocative poses were among the earliest fruits of big-box, slow-tech photography in the mid-nineteenth century; something about the camera’s impassive appropriation of whatever is set before it invites, like a psychoanalyst’s silence, self-exposure.

He then quotes from Nakki Goranin’s upcoming book American Photobooth, in which she describes the way photobooth users were “stripping off their clothes for the private photobooth camera.” This is, obviously, an important observation and an interesting indicator of the power of the photobooth and the sense of privacy it gave to those who used it, but by bringing up this passage as evidence of the way the simple new cameras liberated amateur photographers, Updike glosses over the fundamental differences between a photobooth and a camera used by a typical consumer at the time. A photobooth creates no negatives, and those women taking off their clothes and couples getting adventuresome in the booth were safe so long as the curtain stayed closed. Once their photos came out of the booth, they had all of the evidence, but for amateur shutterbugs who wanted to get a little racy, there was still the shame of sending the photos away to be processed by Kodak or dealing with the knowing glances of a drugstore photo counter employee. For an entire article about amateur photography, it seems odd to base a point around the way photobooth photography works, as well as to illustrate the piece with photobooth photos. Photobooth photography sits somewhere between amateur photography, studio photography, and automation, and it seems that the distinction between snapshots and photobooth photos still needs to be made a little more clearly. 

Photos: Top © Harvey Stein. Bottom 1, 4, and 5: Nakki Goranin; 2 J.F.K. Library; 3 Collection of Robert E. Jackson.

January 02, 2008

phototeria.jpgThe eighty-year history of the photobooth is filled with little detours and fascinating stories; one of those that has just come to our attention recently is the history of the Phototeria.

Thanks to photography historian George Dunbar, we can now learn about the story of David McCowan and his Phototeria, a late 1920s photobooth that placed a single photograph onto a photosensitive metallic disk. Dunbar tells the story in his article “The Phototeria — A Canadian Invention” in the most recent issue of Photographic Canadiana, the journal of The Photographic Historical Society of Canada.

Thanks to George for letting us know about his article, and for his permission to post the PDF on and let our readers learn about it.

Phototeria photo by George Dunbar

Brian | 9:18 pm | History