February 12, 2008

Ever since reading about San Francisco’s photobooths in a 2002 San Francisco Chronicle article as I was beginning my photobooth hunt, I’ve thought of the city as a photobooth haven. Never mind the fact that one of the locations in the article had a Polaroid booth and another location had gone digital by the time I was able to check it out, or that the author mysteriously recommends photobooth enthusiasts watch La Dolce Vita (great movie, nothing to do with photobooths) along with Amélie… On a quick weekend trip to San Francisco, we were able to add five booths to the list, check in on some old stand-bys, and confirm some cases where digital booths had taken over.

First, I’ll list a few notes on research done before the trip, based on a few years of mentions, rumors, tips, phone calls, and Flickr evidence (and please feel free to correct if you know otherwise).

  • The photobooth at the Elbo Room is digital.
  • The photobooth at Seventh Heart was photochemical, but has been gone since February, 2007.
  • Treat Street is now Dirty Thieves, and seems to still have a photobooth, but people describe it as “Polaroidesque,” so who knows…
  • Jungle Fun & Adventure doesn’t exist in San Francisco anymore.
  • My Trick Pony’s booth was photochemical, and “died” in April, 2007.
  • Studio Z seems dead; Fat City seems to have taken over, but do they have a photobooth?
  • The booth at the 500 Club is a Polaroid booth (as of June, 2007).
  • The Cellar doesn’t have a photobooth, and claims not to have had one.
  • Studio Z is closed, so that one’s out, too.

Now, for the the run-down: my first stop was at Notte, on Union Street in Cow Hollow. The booth was there all right, but it wasn’t working that night, so I snapped a photo of it, to the annoyance of those in the roped-off section in the back where the booth lived, and moved on. I headed over to The Comet Club, where I’d heard there was a booth, but it was a digital one, so I headed back to the hotel.

mm.jpgThe next morning, we headed down to the Embarcadero, and along to the Musee Mecanique at Pier 45. Both black and white booths are still there, and I had a nice chat with the man behind it all, Dan Zelinsky, who helped us out with a finicky bill acceptor and told us about his massive collection of abandoned photostrips. We took a few sets of photos, happy see that these great booths are still in action.

Later on that afternoon, I headed west to the Haight to check out a photobooth at Wasteland, a clothing store on Haight Street.The photobooth is located in the rear of the store, and is apparently used as a dressing room on occasion, as a sign inside the booth testifies. The booth provided very crisp black and white images with a clean white border, and in was good running order.

From Wasteland it was a little over a mile to the Buckshot Bar and Gameroom (which unfortunately comes up as “Buckshop” on Google Maps and has no website), where I stopped in just as they opened to test out their black and white booth. The booth had all of the right elements: photos of dogs, photos of bar-goers in various stages of undress, a half-dressed mannequin and a goose on top of the booth, and a Farrah Fawcett poster on the side. I tried to complete the scene by downing a beer in between the four flashes, and did pretty well, but the camera seemed a little cock-eyed in the booth, and didn’t capture my nearly-empty glass as I held it up. When the photos came out, not only were the sepia and nearly overrun with white border, but image they captured included the light from outside and not much of the entire right half of the seating area. Strange indeed.

After dinner on Valencia Street, we checked out the San Francisco location of The Beauty Bar, an unassuming little place with a few hair salon-style dryers above the seats and some related paraphernalia on the walls. The photobooth took some solid, if a little dark, black and white photos, but the mechanism could use a little adjustment, it seems: our photostrip received a half-inch gash in the top frame on its way out.

Rayko photobooth

On Sunday morning, before heading to the airport, I made one more stop: the RayKo Photo Center, not far from SFMOMA and the Moscone Center on Third Street. Michael Shindler’s beautiful 1947 Model 9 booth sits at the far side of the front area of the building, all gleaming metal and curved walls. The booth wasn’t working that day, but I had a nice chat with Michael about it, and Ann showed me some of the many photostrips the booth has produced, plastered on the walls. I poked around inside the booth and took a bunch of photos. I look forward to a return trip where I can see the booth in action.

Almost all of the photobooth locations I didn’t have a chance to check out this time around are in a pretty small area, which would make a good night’s work for a reader. These aren’t all confirmed locations, but are places I was going to check out out if I had time: Annie’s Social Club, The Transfer, The Endup, Cassidy’s Bar, Club Six, and Thee Parkside Cafe. Let us know what you find…

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