Starting points for this research included the outstanding www.photobooth.net which provides a huge collection of photobooth resources, practitioners and media and some suggestions from my tutor. This post will largely take the form of notes. It is interesting that there is a vast amount of photobooth work out there, but it’s barely recognised in any of the photography books that I have read so far (admittedly a modest number). You can see my Pinterest board of inspirations and research here and below.
Photobooth images are used in a variety of ways outside of the social/documentation areas:
- As found portraits of individuals (vernacular images in collections eg Jewell)
- As a chronology of an individual over time (eg Griffiths, Delafon. Echiverri)
- As portraits, at the hand of a named photographer (Warhol, Aveden, Rankin)
- As multiple instances of one person, a bit like Cindy Sherman, may be presented as a chronology too (Jacob, Echeverri, Sawada)
- As component cells in far larger constructed works (Fearon, Echeverri, Garrett, Rideal)
- As frames to make a film (Jewell showing Griffiths, Delafon, Echeverri)
- As aids to research (eg the use of Photobooth images of Francis Bacon)
In the world of media, photobooths form the central plot line to the film Amelie and feature truly extensively in tv and cinema advertising (everyone remembers the Hamlet ad but it’s a successful device that continues to this day).
The photobooth was invented in 1927 by Anatol Josepho, a Siberian migrant to the US who had been passionate about making a self-service photography machine since his teens (Goranin, 2008). He raised $11,000 to develop and launch his Photomaton, and the first machine opened on Broadway with a price of 25cents per strip of eight images. It was a huge success with over 7000 people queuing some days. In 1927 he sold his machines and his patent for $1,000,000. He immediately donated some of the money to the NY needy and was condemned as socialist. A similar deal for European rights followed soon after. In the 1950s there was an increasing number of complaints about customers (especially women) taking off their clothes in the booths, and this led to the curtain being removed from some machines (perhaps this also accounts for the video surveillance that was in the machine I used at Victoria Station last week). Colour machines were introduced in the 1990s, and despite the challenges of Polaroid cameras, phone cameras, and increased use of biometrics in official ID documentation, the photobooth continues. Customers are now likely to get digital images – there are very few analogue machines left in the UK, and as well as ID images in various stages of officialness you can choose “fun” or seasonal images. Some machines also have the ability to share images online, but I have not yet tried this out. They are also popular as a rental at weddings and corporate events.
Andy Warhol made extensive use of the photobooth. He used the image strips as a starting point – and would paint over them or silkscreen print from there to produce different art, often in his trademark grid style. I like this, I think of photographs as a starting point not the finished product. Ian Walker, in his essay “Dick Jewell’s Found Photos” comments that “In many ways, the photobooth photo – blank, impersonal, the camera gazing without expression or feeling – is archetypically Warholian and one can see its influence throughout his work;” (Walker, 2010) . Interestingly, Warhol had a Photobooth at the Factory for a short while, and it served almost as a deputy for him, serving to photograph visitors in his absence (Goranin, 2008) . I am very intrigued by the idea of using a Photobooth as my camera, in the same way that I might use my DSLR or my Polaroid – just another form of camera.
In 1957 Esquire Magazine challenged Richard Aveden to prove his belief that good photography was down to the photographer rather than the gear. Aveden did so, photographing celebrities including Marilyn Monroe, Katherine Hepburn, Truman Capote and Ethel Merman (Goranin, 2008) . Even then, this most democratic of camera was proving of interest to the rich and famous, a forerunner of the work Rankin is making now (Rankin, 2013). Unfortunately I have not been able to find a link to the Aveden essay.
Elizabeth Fearon, as well as Liz Rideal, works with making larger works comprised of individual photobooth photographs. Fearon mapped herself to begin with (see also Tim Garrett), then moved onto grids, hoping to subvert the “official” use of photobooth images. Both Fearon and Rideal have work that is comprised of photobooth portraits of arms and hands, Fearon’s looks like crowds of tiny creatures waving from a microscope slide (Fearon, 1999), and she makes almost city scapes of towers of images. Liz Rideal sketches cartoons then recreates them by making photobooth portraits of her arm and hand with each image being a tiny brushstroke of the completed whole, with each work taking upwards of 1000 images. (Rideal, no date) She also made several public participatory projects, with each measuring 5m x 2m, comprised of photobooth portraits donated by the public. One of these achieved fame when it was featured on Terry Wogan’s morning tv show, and he provided the final strip of portraits for it. “The participation of the public was an important element, the project made a subliminal reference to the revolutionary stance of the artist Malevitch in 1917, when he exhorted other revolutionaries to ‘make the squares your palettes and the roads your brushes’. It was fitting (if perhaps ironic in the context of Malevitch), that the ‘man of the people’ Terry Wogan was the person who completed this populist circle when the piece was featured on his BBC television programme and his image was added to all the others.” She made a work in Northern Ireland, using the Photo-Me Booth in Boots because on-site sponsorship wasn’t available (this made me feel a bit better about using machines in supermarkets and stations for mine). She also made a piece in the National Portrait Gallery, wanting “ordinary people” to have the chance to see their portrait there, neatly subverting Lord Palmerstone’s wish to display portraits of those likely to inspire noble actions in the viewers. (Gallery and Rideal, 2016). Liz Rideal is one of the artists that I would very much like to learn more about.
Dick Jewell collected found photos from 1968 onwards. He self-published a book – Found Photos containing 154 pages of images in 1977. As in the 2001 film Amelie (Jeunet, 2001) , these were discarded photos, sometimes simply abandoned, other times ripped or stamped on. Another parallel with Amelie was Jewell’s discovery of a Photobooth mechanic at work: he showed him the finished book and the mechanic recognised a colleague from the Crawley patch, immortalised via his discarded test prints. It was Jewell’s own beautiful 15 minute film “Katherine Griffiths 1974-“ (Jewell, 2012) that led me to Katherine Griffiths. In the film we see a chronological sequence of passport photos of Katherine up until 2012. The photos show us much more than you would expect though, we see travel tickets, pets, family, friends, books, a takeout coffee, and memorably a book titled “Photobooth: the Art of the Automatic Portrait”, open at a picture of Griffiths herself. It is this wonderful recursion that captures me every time. Looking further, I find that Griffiths has her own website and Facebook page with her continued portraits (see https://www.facebook.com/PhotoboothJournal/ or https://photoboothjournal.com/ )
Christele Jacobs took my attention with her series presenting herself as others: Elvis Presley, Mick Jagger, David Bowie. It’s simply and effectively done. She has continued to work with Photobooths, particularly Japanese ones which offer coloured backgrounds. She asked people to have their photobooth portrait taken with one or more of their favourite possessions. Christele then acquired suitable props/accessories and put herself in the picture too – part photography, part performance art. My favourite is the Presley/Jagger/Bowie series however, titled “Si j’avais ete un homme j’aurai aime..”.
Sabine Delafon (A human life, 2005) worked with over 1500 photobooth images of herself made since 1987 to make the series “Ex”. I think it was this film that made me realise the similarity between photobooth images and film stills and how perfectly you can animate these images. I like this series because unlike Griffiths’ work, there is next to no contextual information. All you have is Sabine, her clothes, her hair, her face. In one frame you get the briefest glimpse of a child next to her, but there is no other information about who the child might be and no trace of a pregnancy (obviously, I suppose. It could be interesting to make a series of photobooth bump images though!)
Tim Garrett set up the photobooth.net website, runs photobooth conventions and a photobooth hire company and makes his own photobooth art (http://www.photoboothart.com/). Not much is visible on the website except for a collaged self-portrait constructed from Photobooth images.
Juan Pablo Echeverri (suggested by my tutor) produces work across the range of what is possible with a photobooth. Series of himself as himself or in other character, series of others, collages, films of himself, films of others with images in a grid and the narrative moving between cells in the grid. His work is full of colour and life and fun. A lot of photobooth based films are about the long haul – how we change over the decades, Echverri’s work manages to be entirely about the moment, even when he presents a sequence about himself over time. I liked the interview with him which said: ” Echeverri says he often prefers the images which include others to his solo shots however he describes why it is often easier to be his own model, “ if you ask someone to strip, put on a thong, and jump in the air, they will complain they will look ridiculous”. ” (A Man of Many Divas – Juan Pablo Echeverri, 2007). I was very pleasantly surprised by how many people were enthusiastic about being in my work, but they only needed to hold a smile. There is no doubt that logistically it’s easier to work on my own, but working with others is a lot more fun and tells a broader, stronger story.
Tomoko Sawada, a Japanese artist, has also worked extensively within the photobooth format. Her website is here and her Instagram is here. Like Echeverri she works with multiple characters. She also works with groups and has made school images where every individual in the group shot is herself. Group photos are part of Japanese culture. Her work really makes me think about identity – about how the same person can have a huge number of outward appearances, yet a group photograph of many people can result in them all looking the same, even without any manipulation at all. I thought this quote summed it up neatly: “Consequently Sawada’s work appears to want us to think primarily about aspects of our identity, that every person is unique and probably can be unique in an infinitely number of ways (some of her early passport booth work consists of hundreds of photos of herself). That a single person can appear different on the outside in a myriad of ways but will always be the same person internally. Ultimately she seems to ask over and over again what is the connection between personality and the appearance of a person and whether there is such a connection at the first place.” (Dirk, 2008)
Rankin is a contemporary portrait photographer and film maker who has produced his own photobooth, the Rankomat, featuring a ring light. It has its own hashtag #rankomat, and its own social media account on Instagram. Sets of four prints are presented in a 2×2 grid. These are not prints that you’d get from the Photo-Me at the supermarket, nor is it a machine that you’d expect to see there (despite the Photo-Me machines having the benefit of a Philippe Stark remodel). Images are from product launches, parties, and Rankin’s studio. I suppose that most of us get photobooth pictures done while we are essentially doing something else – at the station, doing the shopping – and our photos are typically needed for something boring like a passport, ID or driving license. Rankomat people are out for a good time, and my guess is that the Rankomat is an integral part of that. The “problem” of beautiful women getting their beautiful bits out on images destined for social media is addressed by coy Photoshopping with stars or circles. It’s interesting to consider Rankin’s thoughts on Photobooths: “When I was a kid and student, photo booths were the one area of photography that was truly democratic. Anyone could head down to their local shopping mall and lark about with them.” The Rankomat isn’t a machine that I’d expect to see in a normal photobooth setting, it is a niche machine that started at Photo London and then moved into a glossy and premium orbit of parties and launches. This makes me wish I could track down the Aveden photobooth portraits essay in Esquire magazine. I think this picture of the Rankomat at PhotoLondon expresses the difference between photobooths as we expect them and the Rankomat pretty well. Rankin’s comment that he is there in spirit reminded me of Warhol’s use of a photobooth to take photos at his studio when he couldn’t be there.
6/1/17 Update – adding in Marco Ferrari http://www.peopleinphotobooth.it/ via https://photoboothjournal.com/2017/01/06/the-photobooth-art-of-marco-ferrari/ . a London based Italian film photographer. Specialises in portraits of people with tattoos.
A human life (2005) Available at: http://sabinedelafon.com/ (Accessed: 13 October 2016).
Dirk (2008) Japan exposures. Available at: http://www.japanexposures.com/2008/11/28/tomoko-sawada-school-days/ (Accessed: 18 October 2016).
A Man of Many Divas – Juan Pablo Echeverri (2007) Available at: http://www.culturebase.net/artist.php?3821 (Accessed: 18 October 2016).
Fearon, E. (1999) Photobooth works. Available at: http://elizabethfearon.com/photobooth/index.html (Accessed: 13 October 2016).
Goranin, N. (2008) The history of the photobooth. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/donotmigrate/3671736/The-history-of-the-photobooth.html (Accessed: 13 October 2016).
Amélie (2001) Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet [Film]. Germany: .
Jewell, D. (2012) Katherine Griffiths 1973 –. Available at: http://dickjewell.com/found%20photos.html (Accessed: 13 October 2016).
Rankin (2013) Want your picture taken by Rankin? Visit the Rankomat. Available at: http://www.hungertv.com/feature/want-your-picture-taken-by-rankin-visit-the-rankomat/ (Accessed: 13 October 2016).
Rideal, L. (no date) Liz Rideal. Available at: http://lizrideal.com/index.php?page=works (Accessed: 13 October 2016).
Walker, I. (2010) ‘Dick Jewell’s Found Photos’, Image & Narrative, 11(4), pp. 20–34.