One of the saddest things I’ve ever lost is a blown-out photobooth I had taken in Paris at the Palais de Tokyo. There were flashes set behind you on either side of your head. It looked incredible.
There are rarely photos of me because I’m usually out taking photos of other people. (I am also afflicted with a weird, asymmetrical face that doesn’t look so good in pictures. But what can you do.) I grew up a short walk from a boardwalk and from age 11-12 I would have a photobooth taken nearly every time I went up there, as long as I had enough singles in my pocket. There’s even one from my first date in the 6th grade— only one frame, I don’t know where the rest of the panel went.
Recently, I realized that for the first time since leaving home, I now live a short walk from a good photobooth. I went a few days ago and shot two strips in a row. (I tried to channel my inner bad-tween. Bad didn’t mean smoking or drinking, really it just meant mooning photobooths and watching Beavis & Butt-head. Not much has changed.)
Photobooth shots are usually among the most compelling photographs of a person there are. They’re not selfies, exactly— you get what you get and you won’t know what’s there until they’ve printed— you cannot take, edit, delete. But you do get an image that’s self-directed. Self-styled. Paired with the sense of privacy and intimacy of that person being alone in an enclosed space, behind a curtain, with only a camera looking back at them. You are getting a portrait of the experience of being inside of a photobooth and the lottery that results. I personally like the challenge of engaging with a machine in a sort of formal way, of presenting myself for a recording. It feels ceremonial. Special.
I love all the conventions of the photobooth, the spirit of it. Much like the jukebox whose digital pseudo-version lacks the beauty, tactile pleasures, and charisma of the original machine, analog photobooths are incredibly romantic devices and I’ll be sad once they’ve disappeared. The standard size & proportion of the frames, the dead-pan execution in four evenly-timed bursts of light, the fact that they’re context-less— (there is only the subject: you. and you are *in the booth* where it could be any time or any year, day or night, in any place.), that you can hear the gears passing the paper along through the different chemical baths, that the strip is still wet when it comes out of the machine, that they can be horrible and embarrassing, or a total lucky surprise. That they are both low-rent and highly glamourous. That they are immediately nostalgic. So modern. (But not contemporary).
"I’ve seen some pretty sleazy photobooths— on your wall."
"Sleaze can be romantic, too," I said. I counted them off on each hand, "This one’s for my girlfriend, this one’s for my crush, this one’s for the love of my life, this one’s for the the mother of my children…”
- Aaron Cometbus (Is it from Lanky? I can’t remember, I’m quoting from memory. He also mentions seeing somebody recreate the JFK assassination in a photobooth and someone else making a 3-frame “Dear John” letter where the 4th shot is just an empty booth. Gotta love the vicious economy operating within a restrictive-genre gives you.)