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One of the things I love about collecting photobooth photos, is the myriad possibilities that arise for discovering new and fun things. This image shows a woman wearing a badge that, a quick online search has confirmed, represents the face of a very famous wooden dummy.

Edgar John Bergen was an American actor and radio performer, best known as a ventriloquist. At the peak of his fame he was probably the best known practitioner of his craft in the world. His success was undoubtedly the result of a partnership with a character he created, with the help of a carved block of pine, named Charlie McCarthy. This character was so endearing and believable that the pair conquered vaudeville, movies and the airwaves across America from the 1930s to the 1960s.

This photo has another interest for me. With each woman wearing similar blouses and hairstyles, the parts in their hair on opposite sides, one can imagine it is one woman leaning on a mirror, which eerily reflects how she will look in 20 years time.  The photobooth has become a time machine. Inscribed on the back of the photo in pencil are the words “Left to right, Mrs Polichuk & a friend of Mrs P.

Edgar and Charlie

Badges similar to the one worn above.

Believe it or not there are many books out there that discuss photobooth photos, machines and photobooth art. Generally they are surveys of that genre of photography, covering the work or collections of numerous people in one volume. Occasionally they’re a record of photos made at an event or from a specific installation of a machine in a public place. It is quite unusual to find a monograph of photobooth photos, showcasing a series of works by one artist. The PhotoboothFacial Hair by Dutch photographer, Daniel Heikens is one such book.

These days, it is within the hands of anyone to produce their own publication. The marvellous medium of online book publishing, at sites such as Blurb and Lulu, can be a great tool in skilled hands. Through the experience of having bought a few of these self-published works, I can tell you it is very much an exercise in trust.  You cannot tell who has skilled hands until you’ve done your cash. One can never be sure what will be inside, when that little brown package is delivered.

Daniel published his work through Blurb, so I was apprehensive about what I’d be getting when I placed my order. However, I was very pleasantly surprised when my copy of the book arrived. The high quality production is short, at just 24 pages, but satisfying in its varied mix of documentary and creative photos.

The real Daniel?

In trying to discover more about the techniques he used to get the atmospheric and varied pictures in the book, I wrote to him for some more information. He told me that he did not manipulate a thing. “The strange artifacts you see in some of the shots are just some malfunctions of the machine… Old developer, and even some polarisation sometimes. The machine must have a light leak somewhere during the developing process.”

The modest statement at the front of the book, that it documents the growth of his facial hair over three weeks “That’s really all I want to show“, belies the complexity of some of the images, whether deliberate or not. Despite these ostensibly being photographs of the same individual, Daniel has created different characters through the use of props and poses. These “personalities” are enhanced by multiple ambiances created through the serendipity of the photobooth process.

From a windswept fisherman, a chilling Ku Klux Klan’s man, and a jazz dude, to pictures reminiscent of old police mug shots, the characters cascade from the pages. Sometimes we spot the real Daniel, gazing serenely at us. Then there are the Daniel-less, painterly strips, where one could imagine Rothko having had a hand, if it were not for the knowledge that each frame was a product of a camera.

And throughout the works Daniel’s moustache and beard grow luxuriantly. I wonder if this book could be used as a fundraiser for the mighty month of Movember? *

Living and working in the Netherlands, Daniel created this series in the booth at the RayKo Photo Center in San Francisco, while holidaying in California.

You can see more of the book and Daniel’s other works here.

A Boohbah!

Mug Shot - Prisoner 15122011

*NB Movember is an annual, originally antipodean, month-long event involving the growing of moustaches, (known colloquially in Australia as a “mo”), during the month of November. The Movember Foundation charity runs events to raise awareness and funds for men’s health issues, such as prostate cancer and depression.

May 1995, Hamilton, New Zealand

On any visit to NZ, visiting relations is my first priority. I stayed first with my Aunty Cecilie and Uncle Gregor in Hamilton where their magnificent hospitality was laid on, as usual.  After a few days with them, for the first time in my life, I hired a car to go out and about on my own. Unable to sleep due to nerves and excitement, I took off at 2.30 am one morning to drive to Wanganui to see my mate, Moana. I only managed to complete the journey without an accident, due to three catnaps at various points along the way. Moana and I then did a week-long driving tour of the South Island. We then drove back up north, to Rotorua to meet up with Cecilie and Gregor, where we took advantage of the many thermal bath opportunities on offer.  This visit was the last time I saw my Uncle Gregor, who had inspired my first international travel adventure. He died in May the following year.

I have been to New Zealand many times but this was the first, and so far only time, I ever found a photobooth machine there. Not my favourite type of booth, having only a single shot option, with a polaroid product, but to my mind better than nothing.This was taken in a store on Hamilton’s main shopping street on the 18th of May, 1995.

Del and Janie

This is the second vintage photobooth photo from Del’s Family archive, taken at the Festival of Britain. The festival was a national exhibition held around England during the summer of 1951. It was organised to give Britons a feeling of hope in the aftermath of the second world war. It also promoted British interests in science, technology, industrial design, architecture and the arts. The Festival’s centrepiece was in London on the South Bank of the Thames, where this photo was taken.

On Del’s Facebook page, her sister Jannie posted this booth photo from the festival. Not only did I love the image of the two of them as toddlers but the name of the photo studio prompted a few questions. Was this really a photobooth photo, as I had assumed? Maybe it was a studio shot taken by an itinerant photographer who’d set up shop for the festival?

I started to search for more information about Cyril Astor and he turns up in some interesting places.

The Oxford English Dictionary, as well as providing all of the known definitions of words in English, uses quotations to illustrate the usage of the words. Here is one of the quotations for the trade name of what I mostly refer to as a photobooth –

Photomaton

The proprietary name of a machine that takes photographs automatically; a photograph taken by such a machine. Also abbrev. as Photomat.

1963 Trade Marks Jrnl. 22 May 691/1 Photomaton.+ Photographic apparatus and parts thereof+Cyril Astor Photomaton (London) Limited,+Rhyl,+North Wales; manufacturers and merchants.”

This led me to a patent application that Cyril made in 1966. The Patent Index says that he applied for patents to make improvements to the Photomaton machine in the early 1960s.

“Abstract of GB962798 962,798. Rollerways. CYRIL ASTOR PHOTOMATON (LONDON) Ltd. March 2, 1962 [Dec. 16, 1960], No. 43458/60. Heading B8A. [Also in Division G2] Film is conveyed through a processing tank by a plurality of vertically-spaced sets of rollers, each set being individual…”

Another example of Cyril’s work from the festival.

Although his company was registered in London he traded out of Rhyl, North Wales, where the other of Del’s booth pics was taken.

In addition to being an inventor and photographer, Cyril ran a successful hire company for his booths. He advertised this service in Billboard magazine on the 26 November, 1966.

On the back of each of the cardboard photo frames it says, “Photographer: Cyril Astor. You can obtain three beautiful postcard sized enlargements by sending this photograph with name and address to Cyril Astor, 28, North Drive, Rhyl, North Wales. Together with postal order valued 5/-. It is never too late to send and you get this photo back.”  I imagine it is too late now, despite the claim, but it does make me think there could be some fabulous photobooth postcard gems out there to be discovered!

From The Festival of Britain “Memories” Website

Another fabulous photo found online. I cannot remember where this photo originated.

This is one of two gorgeous booth pictures from the family collection of my friend Del and her sister Jan. They both look very cute in their matching smiles, sundresses and crooked fringes. This picture was taken in the mid 1950s in the seaside resort town of Rhyl and probably came from a Cyril Astor photobooth located near the beach front. (I will tell you more about Cyril in my next post.)

Situated on the north east coast of Wales, Rhyl has long been a popular tourist destination for people all over Wales and North West England. In a recent email, Del said “Rhyl was the only place I thought was the seaside when I was a child.  I didn’t know other places had beach and sea!”  The family went there on a day trip at least once a year.

I love Jannies little fingers, resting on her sister’s shoulder, just poking out from behind Del’s hair. They were obviously good friends in childhood as they still are today.

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