I’m a fan of photobooths. There’s just something about them that I’ve always found intriguing. I remember going to the local mall with friends during lunch in high school, we would take heaps of digitally printed photo strips, we must have kept that booth in the middle of the food court in business. But even better than the digital booths, I discovered the simple joy of old-fashioned black and white film photobooths, a refreshing simplicity that is of another time. I like the imperfection of the photo strip. I mean, it’s a machine taking a photograph of a subject that is in the form of a tangible set of portraits, so you never know how it will turn out. Nowadays with digital photography and iPhones we are in complete control of the look & feel of memories we make in photographs, and it’s a dime a dozen… selfies, filters, retouching, it’s exhausting.
In case you didn’t know, the photobooth, dubbed ‘photomaton’, was invented and patented in 1925 in the United States by a Jewish Siberian immigrant (yup, another immigrant doing awesome stuff!!!), Anatol Josepho. Raynal Pellicer’s book, Photomaton, a French book about not only the early days of the photobooth but the artists that take the machine as a source of inspiration and experimentation, is also a great read. He writes about how automatic photobooths were placed in amusement parks and tourist zones and department stores, they were accessible to anyone, cheaper than a live photographer, and a portrait you could take alone or with a loved one, with a cigarette, a pet or a zany disguise. Moreover, the idea that when the curtain is pulled, one isolates themselves from the gaze of others is fascinating… the self-portrait in general becomes a subject of research that has spanned over a century. Oh, another great book on the history of the photobooth is American Photobooth, by Näkki Goranin, btw. Here’s an excerpt.
The first photobooth I discovered in Paris was at Palais de Tokyo, only a short walk from where I went to university, and where a Foto Automat cabine is to this day. I went to Berlin in Spring 2010 with some friends and randomly came across a photobooth in the middle of an empty lot, and I remember thinking it was just so rad. For my first Valentine’s Day with my now soon-to-be husband in 2010, I remember trekking up to Point Ephémère where there used to be a photobooth outside (which I remember thinking was just so awesome), to take a photo strip for him with some little messages written on pieces of cardboard, ha. I spent a summer in New York, at the start of this blog, really, where I’d go to all the photobooths I could find. They were often mysterious, there wasn’t much info about the stories behind each one.
Tout ça pour dire, I often found myself wondering, “Man, who are the awesome people behind the reparation of these fascinating machines, the people putting these booths out into our crazy world?”. Then I started to follow years back Foto Automat, after noticing the little sticker on the inside of their booths, the collective that give old photobooths a new lease of life in Paris. The Paris extension of Foto Automat (the first being in Berlin) has been around since 2007, thanks to a guy named Eddy, with whom I had the opportunity to meet over a cuppa coffee in Montmartre one day to learn more about it all. A little Q&A:
M: Où est-ce que vous avez découvert une cabine argentique pour la première fois ?
E: Je ne m’en souviens pas très bien car je devais être petit mais il me semble que cela devait être a la Gare de Chartres, probablement à la fin des année 80, une photo atteste de cette rencontre… ahaha!! Puis à Berlin, dans la rue en février 2005.
M: Comment vous vous êtes retrouvé dans la réparation des photomatons argentiques ?
E: Par hasard.. il se trouve que le développement de film super 8 dans une baignoire et la reparation de vieille moto soit une bonne école! J’ai rencontré FotoAutomat Berlin en 2005 et on s’est mis à travailler à l’atelier, aux portes de la ville, sans eau courante, dans un froid polaire.
M: Où se trouve votre cabine préférée ?
M: Votre collaboration Foto Automat le plus cool à votre avis ?
E: Iggy,.. personne n’est plus cool qu’Iggy Pop!
M: Quelque chose qui vous a inspiré récemment ?
E: À pleurer comme c’est beau.