Tag Archives: photomatic

I haven’t published a Photomatic photobooth photo (above) in a very long while. For those of you who have never seen one before, it came from a type of photobooth that produced a framed image directly from the machine. The frame acted as a developing tray for the photo. Such a wonderful concept, yet the machines disappeared well before the demise of other types of chemical booths.

Above is a photo which I believe to be a Florida woman named Bella Emanuel. I’m not sure of it, but the image came from the same seller, albeit several years later, where I bought some other photos of her. I wrote about Bella and her husband Jay in 2013 in this post. You will find the other photos of Bella there. You can see the couple, pictured below, in another Photomatic.

So, what do you think? Is it the same woman?

If you would like to know a little more about Photomatic machines please click here.

This post, has an example of the back of a Photomatic photograph, where you can see the way advertisers were able to use the instant, framed photo concept to promote their businesses.

photoboothMovieMagazineCouple Jan2013


This fabulous photomatic booth photo of what appears to me to be a father and son, was listed as a “gay interest” item in its online advertisement.  I find this type of description interesting and confusing. If any photo has two men in it, looking happy or like they may be good friends, online sellers love to throw in that tag. Similarly the “lesbian interest” tag is often used if two women are depicted. Why do we never see “straight interest” listings? Do gay/lesbian people search for the “gay/lesbian interest” tag? If they do are they horribly disappointed with what they find?

Scott Davis from dcphotoartist has looked at this issue in an eloquent article, some of which is quoted below. One of Scott’s collecting interests is cabinet cards of the Victorian Era.

Another marketing trend I find a bit odd is the whole “gay interest” tag in the image description. On one level, I get it – the seller is trying to reach out to an under-appreciated market. On the other hand, I question if the people using that tag line understand the “gay interest” thing at all. Two men or two women posing together in the Victorian world did not make them a same-sex couple. They could be siblings, co-workers or just friends. 99% of the time we have zero context to go with any image to make an assessment of the relationships captured in the images. There was no public subculture in the 1850s or even in the 1880s that we would today recognize as analogous to the late 20th/early 21st century gay culture, and as such it would not have been recorded photographically. There is certainly an interest in finding proof of ancestry – “see, we DID exist in the 1850s”. Unfortunately, buying in to the “gay interest” marketing of these images is really just being taken for a ride through ignorance and vulnerability. Don’t get me wrong – it’s certainly fun to speculate what might have been going on behind the scenes of these pictures, and what the relationships of the sitters might be to one another. I have one image in my collection that in the right minds implies no end of off-camera highjinks. But it’s still pure speculation. If you see an image marked “gay interest”, buy it only because you actually like the image, not for any marketing baloney designed to separate more of your hard-earned money from you than is fair.

I would argue that these points are equally relevant for many photos up to the 1950s and beyond. In another article Scott continues –

The “Gay Interest” label is a purely 21st century invention for marketing purposes, imposing our sensibility on an image of something that may (and quite probably) have had nothing at all to do with the modern sensibility. It points out a very interesting problem/characteristic of the malleability of truth – there was a “Truth” behind each of those photos, one we can never know because it was unrecorded or became detached from the image. When we come along years later and invent or imagine a story revealed by the image, is it any less real than the story the image intended to tell at the time of its creation? It certainly says more about us in the 21st century and how we interpret these images than it does about the people in them, but in doing so, does it actually help make the images more relevant and meaningful, and continue their survival? 

Please click the links above or here to visit Scott’s blog. He has some fabulous ideas and images to share.

These photomatic photobooth images are from the USA. Though undated, they appear to be from the WW2 era. They were probably taken in the same machine around the same time, possibly even within the same hour, as the visual evidence in hair and clothes might tell us, but also as the cardboard backing that supports the photo is, unusually, upside down on all the images.

I suspect that the first two photos were taken while the lady stood beside her man. You can just see a part of what appears to be an arm in the second pic that has the same tone and texture of the suit she is wearing in the subsequent images. They then pull over the second, darker curtain and in jumps his lady for the next series of flashes.

When searching for photobooth gems to add to my collection I always keep an eye out for any series of pictures that shows the same person in different poses or at different stages of their lives. Even if it is imagined, there is more of a story to be seen when a face is viewed in different modes. There is a tentativeness about their togetherness that I find endearing. Maybe they had just met. Maybe they were not demonstrative types. Given the era of these photos I am musing on the fate of these anonymous faces. Military service at any time is fraught with danger and uncertainty. Did this young man survive the war? If yes, did their relationship survive it?

The red spots you can see on the last image are the remains of a red elastic band, which, luckily didn’t touch much of the surface of the photo. The back of one of the other items is covered in solidified rubbery goo. I like finding these little pieces of evidence that at one point they were carefully stored together and therefore loved by someone, before being flung out into the world and an uncertain fate.

Up until today, all of the Photomatic photos I have written about are from the USA. Photomatic booths were different to other photobooth machines, as they produced only one photograph, which was delivered to the sitter ready framed. Frames were made of cardboard and metal in various coloured finishes. Towards the end of their existence the frames were plastic.

In Australia, the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney believes that only one photomatic machine was imported into Australia and it is possible that it was never put into service. Finding an Australian photomatic example is extremely remote, therefore finding any photomatic that is not American, was quite exciting for me.

This picture of mother and son was taken in Scotland. The Scottish seller theorised that it may have been taken at the Empire Exhibition, in Scotland in 1938. The event was an international exposition held at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow, from May to December 1938. It showcased the best of Scotland’s industry and creativity, while also offering a chance to boost the country’s economy, which was recovering from the depression of the 1930s.

I find the atmosphere of this photo to be more restrained and demure than in most American images of the same period. The clothing is more conservative and the expressions of these two are more tentative and shy than the average North American sitter. It could be that these two are not typical of the British Isles. They are just two quiet people enjoying a day out. However to me it has a particularly British feel to it; friendly, homey and comfortably welcoming.

This blithe young man looks to me to be around 15 to 16 years old. Do you think it is one of the first times he was let off the leash by his parents?  The cheeky look on his face in both pictures, but particularly in the pose with the cigarette, suggests, YES!  Were these taken to impress a girlfriend, show off to his mates or as an accidental souvenir of his right of passage to adulthood? Whatever the case they were someone’s memento for many decades. Despite being faded, tarnished and stained, the photos radiate youthful joie de vivre some 74 years after they were taken. I can still feel his glee.

From what I have been able to discover, there were many Pennyland centres around the US and Canada offering a large selection of games and coin operated machines to amuse all ages. I think some were stand alone places but more generally they were part of a larger amusement park. The Pennyland where the above photos were taken has long since disappeared, as I can find no reference to it online. Any helpful information from out there would be most welcome!

Entrance to the Pennyland Arcade at the Glen Echo (Maryland) Amusement Park, 1928.

View of the Pennyland Arcade at 131 Royal Street, New Orleans. Date unknown.

This middle aged lady, looking dowdy and severe could well be dubbed an archetypal old maid, bitter and shrivelled, typecast as a sad lonely old thing. Popular imagination is less likely to explore the possibility that she could just as easily be a hard working mum, with no time to spruce up for a picture, that may have been a spur of the moment indulgence.

I see her as neither of the above options. I am going to dub her a spirited independent woman, who made her own way in the world. She worked hard against many obstacles but persevered and succeeded. Although unmarried she was not in any way wanting. She was constantly surrounded by friends, nieces and nephews who appreciated the uninterrupted time she was able to give them. She was adored by her siblings and friends as she was able to step in to help them at a moments notice, an integral support to them all. By the relative freedom of time in life, she offered opportunities to friends and family that otherwise would not have been open to them.

This is not a portrait of my Great Aunty Kit, (but it could have been), it is a description of how valuable her life was, how loved she was, despite the fact she never married or had children. She may have been typecast by society, as most unmarried women once were, but the reality is that the contributions of these women were as big as they were unseen. RIP Aunty Kit, you are still loved and remembered despite your departure so many years ago.

Barbara Ann 1944

Two more photomatic photobooth photos of Barbara Ann Fremier.  The photomatic format, as far as I have been able to discover, was never available outside the USA.  If any one finds that I have misread the hand written name on the back of the picture, please let me know your interpretation and I will consider it and make changes.

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