Tuesday, November 27, 2012


The humble photobooth, like red telephone boxes, are getting harder and harder to find, but what do we know of it's history?


A Siberian immigrant named Anatol Josepho invented the automatic photobooth. After being inspired by the legendary Brownie box camera a young Josepho decided that photography was for him so enrolled in a local technical institute to learn. At fifteen he made the decision that Siberia was too small for him and he wanted to see the world. He convinced his father to give him money to get to Berlin and was sent off with these words:
'Life itself, my son, is the supreme teacher. Go. Travel. Work. Study. Listen... Come back when you will. I'll still be waiting for you. And I want to be proud of you when you come back. Remember that, my boy, won't you?'
When in Berlin he happened upon a photo studio, walked in and convinced the owner to hire him and teach him to be a photographer. Here he learnt his trade and first began to develop the idea of creating a faster, more efficient and cheaper way of creating photos and thus making it more widely available for the masses, much in the same way the Brownie cameras had done. At the age of nineteen he began designing a self-operating, coin-operated photo machine. He even built a primitive prototype.

Between 1912 and 1921 he travelled around the globe. New York, Paris, Budapest, Omsk, through Mongolia and ending up in Shanghai. Here he set up a hugely successful studio but was constantly trying to create his dream. He wrote:
PhotoautomatWhile I was in China, in 1921, I drew rough plans for the invention. I decided to come to America and hunt for backers. I landed at Seattle. It struck me that I ought to go to Hollywood and get motion picture experience. I went there, got the experience I needed, and then came east. I had relatives in New York City. With their aid, and that of friends, I raised what I needed to produce the first model. For that purpose, I raised $11,000. Incidentally, I may say that those who loaned me the money for an interest in the invention have been well repaid for taking a chance.
His perseverance paid off and in September 1925 he opened the "Photomaton Studio" on Broadway. Up to 7,500 people would queue up to have their picture taken and receive, almost immediately, a strip of eight photos. All for just 25 cents. By 1927 he had sold the American production rights for $1,000,000. A year after this and Jospeho sold the European rights for the Photomaton.

With a little help from people such as Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Truman Capote and Andy Warhol the photobooth caught the imagination of the public. Photobooths were turned into kissing booths, clothes were shed and who knows what else happened behind the curtain.

With the rise of Polaroid's instant photography in the 60's and 70's the popularity of the photobooth dipped and they fell out of fashion with the general public. Today they are gaining a new following. Ole Kretschmann and Asger Doenst, two Berliners, developed the idea of buying up old machines, restoring them and putting them back on the streets. They have, to date, rennovated twenty machines which can be found in Berlin Leipzig, across Germany and into Europe.


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