Tranquil Beauty – Photobooth Photo?

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There are many of these unusual format photos listed online as photobooth photos but I am still unsure as to whether that description is entirely correct. I cannot imagine an automatic photobooth this size. On page 125 of  Näkki Goranin’s book American Photobooth, there is an example of this type of photo illustrated, leading me to believe that they must have existed somewhere, at sometime. However, I can find no mention of this type of booth in the text of the book.

Does anyone know anything about this type of arcade photograph? Was it really a coin in the slot affair? I imagine the sitter putting the money into the slot and then having to run to the backdrop to take up their pose!

I found this at the bottom of a large, mixed lot of African-American snap shot photos, which I bought from an Australian online seller for ninety-nine cents. She had bought them back from the USA to use in a project that she abandoned. I think she purchased them at a car boot sale. I love the way the image has been hand painted in such a naïve way. It being overly colourful and a bit slap-dash, adds to its crafty charm. The backdrop canvas itself is also very naïve/crafty/crappy? Still, it also adds to the photo’s appeal.

I am intrigued by the sitter’s passive gaze into the foreground. There is something of the Mona Lisa in her countenance. What was she thinking about? Although her dress looks very dated, her sausage hand bag would be a very collectable fashion item, these days.

I highly recommend Näkki Goranin’s book to those of you who would like to find out more about the development of automatic photo processes. It is the most comprehensive history of the photobooth available at this time.

  1. Wow, I love this photo! The colors are gorgeous. She’s beautiful, and you’re right, there’s something so intriguing about her Mona Lisa smile. The backdrop reads as very amateurish, and I wonder how much of that is the original drop, and how much of it is the later tinting. Regarding your question about why this would be categorized as a photo booth photo, I don’t know, but I have an idea. This has a sort of souvenir feel to it, like a photo taken at a fair or carnival, with the cheap bench on the grass adding to the feeling of transience about the setting. A vendor’s stall at such a place could be called a booth, and a photographer who set up in a stall at a fair could be said to be operating a photo booth. That obviously differs from the coin-operated automated machines you adore, but it might explain why people sometimes label them that way.


    • “I wonder how much of that is the original drop, and how much of it is the later tinting. ” Yes, I agree with that. It is hard to tell. Also your theory and that of Ehpem’s are probably correct. Especially in the light of the link he added (below).

      The doubt in my mind is that Nakki Goranin included one of these in her book about automatic photo machines. I wrote to her to find out what she knew about them but haven’t had a reply as yet.


    • Yep, I think you are right. Thanks for the link. The entire series of pics are wonderful.


  2. Just trowing this out there as an idea….maybe the photo booth was much bigger on the inside. The BCC made a documentary a few years ago about a time traveler that moved through space and time in an old style police phone box. From what i remember the outside was small but the inside was huge.


    • Dear Mr Void,

      Yet again you have me chortling! You are wonderfully cute and funny! (Not meaning to be too forward, you know). I have been planning to write a post on the correlation between said police phone box and photobooths for some little while now. You have stolen my thunder in a most delightful way. I will make sure I look out for the BCC “doco” on DVD.

      PS I am not ashamed to say I have been an obsessive fan of the man in the blue box since age 13.


      • I would be a fan, not obsessive, but a fan. I did made a joke in work yesterday – I can’t really remember what it was but for some reason I suggested a co-worker was from Gallifrey. so for me that is two DW references in the one week. – I might be a nerd……


        • Hmm, I think “dag” describes you better. If you are unfamiliar with that particular Aussie colloquialism it has connotations of … (10 minutes later) … shite, I really cannot say. It would take me three pages to explain what it means. I suppose it is an affectionate way of saying nerd. It used to be a derisive term but is now much more associated with someone being likeably uncool yet amusing in a cuddly way? I don’t know. It is a great word as it has uncategorisable depths of meaning!! Anyway you make me smile. I sometimes read the comments from the general public on your blog and think “Did they get his joke?”. That makes me smile even more.


          • Dag it is then.
            I have an encyclopedic knowledge of Australian pop culture, I have watched Sons and Daughters, Neighbors, Home and Away and The Sullivans. I think that has educated me enough. Although now that I think about it this might be the same reason that I no longer watch TV.

            My blog should be read as a true and heartfelt biography, I am not sure what the “Joke” is.


  3. Hi Katharine, I love this. As a small child I was more excited by the museum than swings. As a result all I ever wanted to do was paint a diorama, a back drop. I would imagine painting this at a young age and being very excited despite the fact she is seated mid-river. Lot’s of years on, I’m still excited by dioramas but I really love swings. I also have a headful of uncontrollable curls so I admire her hairstyle. That’s discipline, I could imagine the release of those clips on her hair and handbag!. She obviously wanted to be a Walton in the woods like me, maybe Mary-Ellen.
    Cheers Sue-Ellen (I think I would have put a badly drawn bear in the woods..)


    • Mary-Ellen was my favourite, too! It is one of those shows that I have never watched in repeats as I am scared it will ruin my memories of it. I would love to see your badly drawn bear in this diorama!


      • I’ll see what I can do! You won’t believe what I have just read. Life is an amazing string of coincidences sometimes. I have a special post in the porridge of my mind at the moment. Hopefully I’ll dish it out today. By the way, watch a re-run just to hear that music at the start…’s worth the risk.


  4. elmediat said:

    Fascinating post. The size of the photo-booth space is very curious. The other contextual element is time and race relations. Depending on location, one wonders about segregation issues and access. Back in that time many establishments would serve only one racial group.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had not thought of race relations in the context of this booth photo or most others in my collection, but yes, I am sure it was a factor in accessibility of many services. It is easy to have such a narrow view of the world when one has not been the subject of prejudice and discrimination. Thank you for bringing it up.


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