Wednesday, May 9, 2012

THREE QUESTIONS by Joel Rotenberg

1. Mark Glovsky pointed out to me that nudity is oddly rare in photobooth portraits, and he is absolutely right. This is the only example I have. I think it’s pretty recent, so maybe it doesn’t even count.

Where is all the photobooth nudity? By rights it should be common. People had every reason to believe they would be the only ones who ever saw what they did in the booths; in this respect photobooths are like Polaroids, which aren’t processed by a lab and—for that very reason, I’ve always thought—are full of sex and nudity. And if you were a certain kind of person, wouldn’t you take the curtained-off booth as a dare?

2. Shadow images like this one occasionally turn up. They are created by decades of close contact between a photo and a piece of paper or cardboard, as in the case of this cabinet card. In very specific chemical terms, what is going on here?

3. When you took photos to the drugstore to be made into Christmas cards, birth announcements, etc., I assume you were shown samples, so that you could say, “I want this format.” What did these samples look like? Was there some sort of sample book, perhaps? Was it standard, distributed from a central point—possibly the lab that did the processing?

Joel Rotenberg
The Art of the Snapshot


  1. my guess would be that the photobooth user might have thought there was a negative involved, and he or she would not have possession of that negative. just a guess.

    and as far as ghost images goes, someone once pointed out to me that one of my ghost images resulted from a platinum print. it does seem to be the case that platinum burns through more easily. don't know why that would be.

    i have, btw, a triple ghost image. there was a sheet of tissue paper between the photograph and the folder, and that tissue received the burn too.

  2. Rich, Claudia and I were just in a photo booth on Hollywood Blvd. What we didn't know was that everything we did in that booth was being shown on a monitor mounted above the booth... and was played over and over until the pics popped out...Now that was a surprise. I think the lack of nudity is because of the rapid fire of the images and after all there is only a flimsy piece of curtain between you and the outside world... Can you imagine how long it took to take off one of those 40's style bras and even longer to put it back on... but boardwalk booths by the seaside... is it any easier to take off a wet bathing suit?

  3. I agree with Joel that it is strange that there are not more extant nude photobooth photos. The imagined existance of a negative would not put people off. I once had a long conversation with the proprietor of a 1 hour photo processing lab (before digital photos took over) and he said there was no shortage of risque images in his daily work, despite (or due to?) the fact that the owners of the images would have known they were likely to be viewed by the whole staff. The more likely scenario in my mind is that they were taken in abundance but discarded by embarrassed relatives if discovered after the sitter's demise or by the sitter themself upon later reflection. I have a fabulous male nude photobooth strip that I found at Euston Station in London about 20 years ago. It is more out-there than just nude and so I have not had the courage to publish it on my blog. Should I?

  4. PS The look on that boy's face is priceless!

  5. Joel, look on eBay right now -- search for "christmas card sample book". There are four or five of these books offered. The sample cards were glued into them. My parents did this a couple of times in the late '40s and early '50s. I remember going to the drugstore to look at the books and then order the cards.

  6. Yeah, but photo cards? I'm sure they're out there.

  7. Yeah, photo cards. You took your photo in and ordered the cards from a book of sample cards (with text, maybe a little illustration, and a photo of other people's children, house, or dog in the sample). Sorry, I wasn't clear. I meant photo cards.

  8. I heard back in the days prostitutes used photo booth strips to advertise them selves. For that same reason, that there was no negative and photographer involved. Don't really have any proof for that, but it would make sense.