I guess that Alan Adler retired this year. Alan Adler was the man who ran the photo booth business in Melbourne for forty years. His analogue black and white photo booths are no longer at Flinders Street Station.
In September 1925 in New York City on Broadway Anatol Josepho opened the first photo booth machine. (Näkki Goranin American Photo Booth (W.W. Norton & Company, 2008, New York). The photo booth was a common modern experience that inspired many people in the pre-digital world to play with portraying their identity.
My own relationship with photo booth goes back more than forty years. I was just two when I had my first photo taken in one. My parents took me to a department store in Canada and inside the automatic glass doors, next to the gum ball machines was a photo booth. It made a profound impression on my young mind. I thought: “Modern. Everything done by machine.”
Since 1984 I have been working on a project using photo booth machines, documenting my life with a strip or two of black and white photos every year. It started fooling around in London; the machines were everywhere because a weekly tube pass required a photograph.
I was aware of the history of art and photo booths: the Surrealists, Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol.
Francis Bacon’s photo booth photos are reproduced in David Sylvester Interviews with Francis Bacon 1962-1979 (Oxford, 1980) (p.42).
In 1990 Warhol exhibited several hundred photo booth photos at the Robert Miller Gallery in New York. In a review of the exhibition Hilton Als wrote, “What these photographs do suggest is what gesticulating – smiling and relaxing – into the void looks like.” (Artforum March 1990)
Louis Nowra “Grins to silent screams: the influence of photo booths” Art and Australia V44 #1 2006
I delighted the strip format, like a comic book panels, in the limitations and the errors made by the mechanical processing. What you can and can’t control. Curtain or no curtain? How do you dress and position your body with in the confines of the small booth.
The photo booth photo is always taken on the way to or from somewhere, it is a pause on a journey. You step out of the public space into a private booth, draw the curtain, insert your coins and pose for the photo before stepping out into public again to await the finished results three minutes later. I went to the photo booths at Flinders and Spencer Street Railway Stations to take photos on the way to friends, to Geelong, Bendigo.
Now my project has come to its natural, or rather, technological end.
Lindy Percival reported on Adler and his photo booth machines two years ago in The Age. Local artist Marty Damhuis has a blog, flyingtale about his photo booth work; I wish that I’d seen his and Nadine Allen exhibition of photo booth photos at Platform in August 2009. See photobooth.net for more about photo booths including some of the artists who have used them.
P.S. Actually the remaining black and white photo booth has simply moved a few metres further along Flinders Street station near the entrance to Platform 1.