Assignment 2 – Collecting Heads

I wanted to rediscover some of the joy and freedom of the Foundations course. My A1 feedback encouraged me to explore a feminist perspective with A2. I chose to collect “heads” via photobooth portraits. The subjects were women and girls holding fake smile props, as I wanted to explore the way that we’re asked to smile, often by strangers, and to do so within a context that actively discourages smiles ie passport photographs.

There was no problem finding willing participants, everyone was familiar with the scenario. I used the same booth for all but one of the models. Participants were asked to wear a black, grey or white top and to hold the smile prop, they could do whatever they wanted except smile. I used a photobooth for a number of reasons. I wanted consistency, I wanted that idea of official documentation, but I also wanted the feel of privacy and freedom, the absence of the “photographer”.  Photobooths were the selfie-machines of my childhood; for some of the children shown here it was their first, spell-binding time inside one. I surrendered technical control to a camera that could not have its settings changed, but which also removed me from the photographic process meaning that all the participants had the same interaction process. The children had completely autonomous control of how they appeared in the images once their parent was on the other side of the curtain. It also meant that theoretically all images had identical framing, light and background.

I presented the work in a small black album that I’d had custom printed. The album itself was reworked but you can see a video of the original here, password smileplease

 

My tutor feedback was very positive, commending my critical thinking, my playfulness and my “engaging with, and questioning Western cultures attitudes towards gender“. She was also positive about my ideas for developing the work further. Reading suggestions included Dawn Woolley’s 2D work,  Angela McRobbie’s The Aftermath of Feminism (reviewed elsewhere on this blog), and Anne Burns’ eye-opening blog on selfies. I followed her clear suggestions for improving the work (removing the information cards and the handwritten inserts). I changed the edit from one of women and girls to one of just girls. This was striking – not only did it change the reading of the album, but it gave a completely different meaning to the remaining images of the women. Although I had my rework in the form of the album, I followed a hunch and tested presenting these images within dolls house frames on a miniature wall-paper. I discussed the result with my tutor and agreed with her view that this next step has much potential and is best saved for my next course.  I had also played with cutting the prints into oval miniatures, and following reading Elizabeth Grosz, I started thinking about constructing Mobius loops out of strips of photobooth portraits. This too has been parked for future development, possibly Two Sides of the Story. For this assessment, I am submitting just the reworked album. Below is a video (for those who don’t have access to the album), and shots of possible future development ideas.

VIDEO HERE

Thoughts for future development (not part of this submission):

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Bibliography

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.

 

 

 

Assignment 2 rework – notes

I have mainly stayed with my tutor’s recommendations. The first book was deconstructed to make the revised one, however videos of both will be available in the assessment post.

I considered my tutor’s comments about how an edit of just the children, or just the women, might read. I decided to present the work as a sequence of paired images of the children. I do think this works better, although I am not sure why. I suppose because maybe a child faking a smile has different connotations to a woman faking a smile, though both are for the benefit of a third party.

I removed the original “outro” about “smile love, it might never happen”. I did consider my tutor’s suggestion about using it as a title, but it had too many characters for the smaller album whereas the larger album had too many pages for the set. I also removed the original “intro” and replaced it with something simpler.

I didn’t follow my tutor’s suggestion of retitling the album “Smile, it might never happen” (formerly on the outro) as Paperchase had stopped selling that size. I also like the “Give us a smile” title because (a) the smile used is portable and passable and (b) phoograph albums are typically shared by hand too.

This left me with eight trimmed passport photos of women with fake smiles, which I had removed from the album. For a while I’ve been playing around with the idea of inserting photos of real people into a dolls house context and it seemed obvious to continue with this. Practical issues appeared such as securing the right size of frame and the right scale of prints for paper and fabrics.

Here’s the first pass:

I posted one of these over on the OCA board and received the interesting comment of “domestic hegemony” which got me thinking.  I went to a local shop that sells dolls house supplies and bought a few things to ty out. I wanted to work at a slightly bigger scale. I’ve been a fan of Lauren Child’s collage work for some time, and wanted to explore layering photos and actual stuff.

Here’s the result so far. It’s a mockup so nothing is trimmed to size or glued. I need more frames that are better sized, I want to spray the wooden frame to work with the metal ones and I need to clean that mirror in the middle. I think if this did go in for assessment I’d have to include the smile prop too. I think it’s at least as promising, if not more, than the reworked album and will be asking my tutor her views tomorrow.

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Assignment 2 – feedback (updated)

Click on the link below to open the feedback pdf. I am very happy with it, and with the clear steers that I have for developing the work. I found my first Skype feedback to be something of a revelation with far more immediacy and possibility of interaction than is possible by a completely written communication cycle, and the PDF file provides a welcome summary and clarification of improvements that I can make. Updated 13/12, see italicised text below. Updated 12/1 see blue italicised text below.

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I am thrilled with the feedback that I received and the clear pointers for developing the concept further and improving the assignment for assessment. I feel as if I’m getting to grips with the need to research firmly and broadly, to consider the presentation of the work from an early stage, and to have a clear idea of where I want to take the work next. I am happy that my feedback identified all of these as successful, as well as the actual work itself.

Points that I will take away for development:

  • Trying out edits of only children or only adults (they are different, it will be interesting to see how).
  • Trying to find a way of including more images of other peoples work on my blog without feeling in breach of copyright. I normally link to other work, with the link set to open in the background, but there remains a risk of the reader being diverted away from my blog. update – 13 /12 – still struggling with this. I am setting all my links so they open in a separate window, in the background, so they don’t disrupt the reading experience. I’m also trying out putting all the links at the end of the blogpost.

27/3 – I’ve found a way to embed my Pinterest boards into blog posts so that you can see thumbnails.

  • Moving on to explore the theme physically, ie working with layered images, die-cut images and images cut into different shapes such as ovals (like miniatures). 13/12 – scheduled a session with an artist friend to kick this off. I have started this work but have moved it to other types of image for the moment – ie cheaper 4×6 High St prints and some £2 photobooth portraits. You can see some of the work with cutting and embossing under the Riffs & Impro menu tab on my blog. I think the way to work on this one with photobooth images is to find some more suitable die shapes, many of mine are too busy for the simplicity of a passport photo.
  • Continue taking risks in my work. Yes, I am working on a personal photobooth project (so personal and sensitive that it’s not yet online). I feel as if I am pushing at the edges of what is socially acceptable/tasteful, but equally it’s documenting a universal experience, and one that I hope the universality of the photobooth format will help to render accessible.

Changes that I will make for the reworked version

  • Removing the details cards from the album (I am happy to do this on my tutor’s advice)
  • Not including any handwriting in the rework
  • Using the title “Smile, it might never happen” for the album (this may involve sourcing a new album as the one I used didn’t allow enough characters for a longer title). – note, if I get a larger Paperchase album I can use a longer title and also try out a different incremental way of showing the prints.
  • I could also try larger prints – the photobooth style portrait that only gives a single large image. The downside of this is that it looks more like a normal print and loses the point of the photobooth image. I think the action here is to take my daughter and the smile back to the photobooth and take some test images in different formats to see how they work.
  • Possibly presented a child-only edit (see above). – yes, I have tested layouts and this is possible, though I will need extra sets for some of the children
  • I think I may reshoot for the rework, but over a period of time.
  • I posted a question on the OCA Discussion board about whether I should remake this from scratch with new prints and a new album, or whether I can cannibalise the first submission for parts. An interesting discussion ensued (click here, accessible to OCA only, opens in new tab). I think to change the album title I will need to order a new album, but I would quite like to re-use some of the original photobooth prints. As it’s not a digital submission I don’t have the option of reprinting from file.

Reading/follow-up

I am still working my way through a collection of essays suggested in my A1 feedback which is proving very inspiring. I will also work through and document this list of suggestions from A2 feedback:

  • Wiebke Leister – her continued interest in non-likeness and representations if faciality 13/12 See here – http://www.photographyresearchcentre.co.uk/what-we-do/fieldstudies/fieldstudy-11-lovers-liars-laughter-wiebke-leister I like the scale here, the faces are shown so large that we can’t see all of them, so large that we can’t identify the people. I need to find more about her and her work, I haven’t found a personal website yet.
  • “Dawn Woolley – your use of the 2d ‘smile prop’ made me think of Dawn’s use of the 2d.” This is inspiring work and more than a little strange. http://dawnwoolley.com/ http://www.trendhunter.com/trends/dawn-woolley composite two dimensional work, you can see the edges; in a 3D context. It reminded me a bit of what I did in Exercise 3.8 Rephotographing on the Foundations course with combining a Barbie, photos of a Barbie, Barbie’s clothes and photos of Barbie’s clothes. There is also a video by Dawn at the OCA Photography Matters symposium  which I have some notes on here .
  • Model releases – AOP and Seeing the Light – yes I have found a model release form on the RPS website and have followed my tutor’s advice to simplify and customise it for each shoot.
  • Angela McRobbie’s The Aftermath of Feminism – her discussion of fashion photography and the models poses will be of particular interest to you. – found and ordered. Now reading – it is compelling reading, and although not a photography book it is definitely informing my perspective which will feed through to my work. I haven’t found many women of my age who agree with the popular (mis)conception that feminism is no longer needed, wanted or welcome.
  • Anne Burns The Carceral Net blog – selfie hating memes. https://thecarceralnet.wordpress.com/  I keep getting lost in this blog and forgetting to write about it. It’s a fascinating view on selfies and how they are viewed that keeps making me think. Anne Burns also has a thesis online https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6jKibz6KmhGZ1pxQi1IbEtacU0/view 
    “SELFIE CONTROL
    Online Discussion of Women’s Photographic Practices as
    a Gendered Form of Social Discipline”. Her writing has really made me reconsider selfies, especially as I read further into Angela McRobbie. It’s interesting that self-portraits as a genre seem to be more widely respected than self-portraits that are #tagged #selfie I was also intrigued by the emergence of the #girlfie hashtag on Instagram – these images, viewed as a whole, have a different feel to them to the equivalent #selfie images.

A2 Presentation research and notes

You can see a Pinterest page of my inspirations here.

Maintaining the physical aspects of the photobooth picture was important to me – I wanted to have a direct physical track from the photo being taken, through the subject handling it and looking it, to the images being cut, chosen, put in the album then reviewed again. I didn’t want to work with digital images on this one.

wp_20161027_14_48_01_proThe first physical thing that I needed to source was the smile prop. It was harder than I thought because I wanted a smile rather than a pout, and I didn’t want an overtly sexualised smile. I also needed something strong enough to cope with enthusiastic handling and being carried in a bag. After a couple of tries I ended up with a wooden smile on wire which worked well. I wanted to use the same smile in each photograph to give the idea of a smile as a commodity, a currency.

I asked all participants to wear a black, white or grey top, I wanted to limit the amount of colour in each image so that the smile stood out and to reduce distractions within each image. One of the learning points I had from A1 was that making outfit choices early on can improve the images.

wp_20161027_14_50_21_proFor presentation I was very tempted by the idea of a small chipboard album like this. I wanted to use papers with a small-scale black and white print as a background to each page – the black and white to fit with the colour scheme in Amelie and the traditional black and white photobooth photos. I very much like Lauren Child’s use of multiple textures and media in her childrens’ books. As the number of participants mushroomed I had to re-think this plan as the album would have been too thick. I had re-watched the film Amelie at my tutor’s suggestion, and I liked the album of found photobooth images in that. After a bit of research I narrowed the choice down to two albums with self-adhesive pages- one Paris themed, and one with a plain black cover that could be custom-printed. I chose the second option (as there was no link to Paris other than watching Amelie) and I had the album printed with “Give us a smile”. I was very happy with the result.

Picture layout took a fair bit of thought and I can probably improve on it.  Photos came out of the machine printed as a 3×2 grid containing five different images and some data. I chose to work with two photographs of each participant and arranged them in eight sets of three and one of two, so AAB, BCC, DDE, EFF and so on. In retrospect I could have worked with 3 images per page still, but used 3 pictures of each person and ordered the images ABC, BCD, CDE, DEF etc to get more variety and rhythm into the set. I couldn’t do one page per person firstly because it felt a little static and secondly because it would have left me with seven blank sides in the album. I was very inspired by Hans Eijkelboom’s film of Birmingham clothing typologies and the rhythm he imbued into that. I wanted to do something with the “spare” square in the grid – the one with the date, time and booth id. There is only one such square per person so I included those on the left hand side of each double page spread. A photobooth image is unusual in that it provides no contextualising or environmental information at all – indeed the lack of this information and the distinctive lighting and physical format is what helps to identify the image as a photobooth shot. I wanted to provide some context however, so chose to include the information, regarding it as the photobooth equivalent to EXIF data.

I remain very grateful to everyone who volunteered to be involved with this work or who volunteered their children and gave permission for me to use the images. Everyone who took part was given the three unused images and the opportunity to have sight of the album either before or after it went to my tutor.

Assignment 2 Collecting – Heads

Give us a smile

This assignment was presented as a physical album. You can see a video of the album here: https://vimeo.com/188814698  password smileplease . There are no jpgs for this assignment. Research and introductory posts are as follows, please do have a look at the links for more information:

I used a photobooth machine as my camera. I wanted to explore the idea of “Give us a smile” – the way that women and girls are frequently asked for smiles, generally by complete strangers. I was encouraged by the feedback I had from friends and their daughters when discussing the idea with them. One friend told me how much she liked photographs that showed her children absorbed in learning, doing, playing, being…. and of how her mother-in-law says every Christmas that the family calendar would be so much nicer “If only the children were smiling more”. Another talked of how boys are often given the right to the full range of emotions and a sympathetic response to each, whereas people just want an unsmiling girl to smile again, regardless of whether or not she wants to or indeed has any reason to. Another talked of “that face”; the one when you know that the shutters are down, the heels are dug in and that no compromise will be brooked.

My brief to the participants was to do whatever they wanted except smile, whilst holding a smile prop. I wanted to get the idea over of being asked for a smile when you really don’t have one for that person, that moment. The brief was harder than expected, I had to re-shoot my daughter’s set because she couldn’t turn her grin off. One friend struggled holding a poker face as two of her children gurned at her from under the curtain. I asked them to wear white, black or grey tops to help give a consistent look and minimise distractions within the image.

 

Technical notes

I used a photobooth for a number of reasons. I wanted consistency, I wanted that idea of official documentation that you get from a passport photograph, but I also wanted the feel of privacy and freedom that you get from a photobooth, the fact that there’s no visible photographer to interact with or to tell you what to do. Photobooths were the selfie-makers of my generation; for some of the children in these images it was their first, spell-binding time in a Photobooth. All sets except one were taken in the same machine in Sainsbury’s, Devizes. I completely handed over technical control to a camera that could not have its settings changed, but also removed me from the photographic process meaning that all the participants had the same interaction process. Especially for the children, who had completely autonomous control of how they appeared in the images once their parent was on the other side of the curtain. It also meant that theoretically all images had identical framing, light and background.

What went well:

  • all participants understood the brief, even the youngest
  • they all understood the dichotomy of smiling when you don’t want to
  • the photobooth worked well and was a good tool for the job
  • I was happy with the images as a set
  • I was very happy with the presentation of images as sets in a custom-printed album
  • I liked the idea of a rhythm through the images inspired by Hans Eijkelboom The Street and Modern Life and the way he signposts changes in topic. My pattern is much simpler but I am inspired to try more involved and changing sets of three.
  • I am stunned by the research potential around both photoboothographers/y and facial expressions.

What didn’t work so well:

  • I did one set of images in Victoria Station, London using the same brand and model of machine as the machine in Devizes. The images made had much tighter framing despite it being the same machine, operated in the same way.
  • Several of the participants were small enough to need the maximum electronic “seat” height setting, and this resulted in a black line across the bottom of the image.
  • The lens was very wide and captured the edge of the curtain in several images. Unfortunately you couldn’t see the curtain in the projected image in the booth.
  • I got some lint caught on the first page of the album due to wiping the photos with a cloth that was shedding from the cut edge. I also don’t like the trapped air very much.
  • The layout of the printed images made it impossible to cut an even white margin around the prints so I had to trim right onto the image.
  • I ended up with too many photographs for the brief, really, but equally I felt that 6 to 10 passport images wouldn’t give the end result I wanted so I went for 9 pages rather than 9 images.

How the series might be improved in the future:

  • I have lots of ideas and plans for continuing this work, either with or without the smile prop.
  • Find a better photobooth format. I want to try out the more traditional strips of 4, however these are only available in black and white or “vintage” so I would lose the impact of the red smile. They are also half the cost of the format I used.
  • Try out a “scrapbook” presentation format in a similar colourway to this – I like the idea of presenting images on a wallpaper style background; and also the black/white/red colour scheme in certain scenes in Amelie. I wanted to do this with the assignment but there were too many images.
  • Do some work on a more physical die-cut series. Passport photos are always rectangular – I want to cut some into miniature-style ovals. I also want to explore layered and cut passport photographs, and altered (nail polish and stencils?) Here are a couple of phone shots of ideas for development.
  • Try out larger photobooth portraits (the single large photo format) as I think this could be an interesting format to alter.
  • Look into getting the images scanned and printed much larger.

It feels like a good start. I am conscious of trying to fit a gallon into a pint pot, there are so many more things I would like to do with this work.

1081 words

 

 

Assignment 2 research – smiles in images

Originally I thought I would research the history of the smile in portraits. It’s been done really rather well by many other people though; in summary people didn’t smile because the exposures were too long (photography) or they had to hold the smile for ages (portraiture), plus they didn’t have good teeth. Holly Woodward, an OCA student on Identity & Place has an interesting and informative post on the subject here. Vernacular photography/snapshots have seen far more smiles. Smiles are forbidden/actively discouraged in official ID images such as passports/driving licenses. What I found more interesting to research was how social media and advertising use the smile, and what other facial expressions we’re seeing. It turned out to be a far larger area than I had imagined so what follows is a very shallow scrape of the surface.

Last summer I ran a photobooth at my daughter’s primary school disco. The youngest children gazed earnestly at the camera or grinned their little heads off. Older girls returned frequently and pouted much more than they smiled. Boys engaged and played. Walking down the local high street, the one where I’m regularly asked for smiles by strangers, I looked to see how many adverts and store posters featured smiles. Yes to pharmacies, funeral directors and budget clothes stores, no to pretty much everywhere else. The funeral ad had the biggest grins, from a middle aged couple who were presumably no longer worrying about how their loved ones would cope with organising their funerals. Looking through womens’ magazines, the biggest smiles were consistently on haircare product ads. Picking up the two exercise-wear catalogues that I’d received recently, the relatively cheap and cheerful one has at least one smile to each two-page spread in the womens-wear section (the men were let off smiling in the more active/frost-bitten shots). The more premium company offered two almost-smiling women in the entire catalogue, and they were in a photograph accompanying a piece on a re-launched workout “expect abs to be on fire. Tutus not necessary”. I found myself wondering if I’m prone to grinning or pouting when running/climbing/doing yoga, and more importantly, why on earth it should matter.

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Bam Clothing and Sweaty Betty catalogue front covers, Autumn 2016

So do smiles sell? Do pouts sell? When would you use each? I don’t know. I feel that there may be some complicated algorithm at work involving the cost of the product, the nature of the product, the target audience, where the image is to be used and the aspirations of the brand. What I do suspect is that even though I have a perfectly good smile, I don’t understand the details of how smiles/not smiles are being used to sell to me, and I wonder what messages I am unwittingly sending.

Facial expressions on social media take me down a black hole of fury that I’m not sure I’m ready for yet. A couple of months ago the phrase “resting bitch face” came up on my Facebook feed. This article by Dana Berkowitz, came to me via Catherine Banks’ comment on Holly’s blog post above, and gave another perspective. It’s what women do when we’re not smiling and not actively monitoring how we appear to the world, apparently. Of course there is no straight male equivalent. If there was, it would probably be called something like “resting hero face” or perhaps “resting father face”, any occupation that would have earned the right not to smile momentarily. I’m not quite so annoyed by “game face” or “race face”, probably because they are used regardless of gender and often carry more positive ideas. However T-shirts declaring “Please excuse my resting gym face” annoy me.

resting-gym-face
Image from teespring.com/Pinterest

When did we start apologising for how we look?  I mean, before we’ve even opened our mouths or finished our stretches? We all have the ability to convey such a broad range of emotions and thoughts via our faces that it seems very annoying that this range is reduced  to the simplistic stereotypes of smiling=good, not-smiling=bitch, and offering unnecessary apologies for not smiling.

Digging a little into the idea of a male equivalent I found that in December 2015 American charity chain Goodwill had to apologise to the rapper Kanye West for using his image in a training newsletter with the headline “Do you suffer from resting Kanye Face?” (Hardingham Gill, 2015) So perhaps it is not an entirely gendered concept…

Woodward, H. (2016) Smile please! Available at: https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/47575220/posts/1145954404#comments (Accessed: 24 October 2016).

Berkowitz, D. (2016) Botox, gender, and the emotional Lobotomy – sociological images. Available at: https://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2016/09/07/botox-gender-and-the-emotional-lobotomy/ (Accessed: 24 October 2016).

Hardingham-Gill, T. (2015) Goodwill apologises for telling employees to avoid ‘resting Kanye face’. Available at: http://metro.co.uk/2015/12/11/goodwill-apologises-for-sending-out-newsletter-telling-employees-to-avoid-resting-kanye-face-5558583/ (Accessed: 25 October 2016).

 

 

 

Assignment 2 Research – Photobooths & Photoboothographers

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.

Bibliography

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.