Photobooth: A Biography

Saturday, November 19, 2016
Tag: review
The cover of Photobooth: A Biography

I discovered this book on a visit to Quimby’s Bookstore in Chicago. They had a photo booth in the store that I found out (after Livie and I used it) was a real, “chemical” booth. The photos took several minutes to come out of the machine and they were still a little wet when they did. Considering I’m currently in the depths of an obsession with film photography, this was fascinating to me. On the outside of the booth was an advertisement for this book.

On first look, you would think this is a comic, but there’s very little sequential storytelling happening here. It’s just juxtaposed illustrations and text. It occurred to me when I would occasionally see a word balloon and it seemed out of place—that’s when I realized that this wasn’t really a comic but an illustrated book. And that’s fine, it’s just not what I expected.

The book is part memoir and part (mind-numbingly detailed) history of photo booths including biographical detail of the people who invented, ran, and continue to run them.

The memoir part of it goes into the obsession people have over preserving and continuing to use “chemical” booths when nearly everything has moved on to digital. I can empathize with that. But I’m not sure how well it relates to being into analog photography in general. In some situations/formats film is actually better than its digital counterparts (medium and large formats). But film photo booths are only better in that they might offer a more archival print than a digital booth. That was one of the arguments the book made for them, but it’s unclear if that’s actually true. If a digital booth uses archival paper and ink, I don’t see how that’s any worse than an analog print for the sake of longevity. And I don’t think typical photo booths make a very high quality / sharp photo to begin with. I understand and appreciate the social phenomenon that was the photo booth and how it allowed people to present a more private aspect of themselves behind the booth curtain than they could to a more public photographer. But now we’re all photographers with our cell phones. It had its place and it’s definitely an important one in the history of photography/the world. And I think the importance of having print photos is underestimated, but I don’t think it needs to involve caustic chemicals and outdated, hard to maintain wooden photo booths.

Anyway, that it’s how I stopped feeling bad about their demise as I read the book.

All that being said, I do want to start to seek out these old booths in my travels from now on while they still exist.