following the photobooth faithful


forgive me, this post will hardly be about feminism and/or fashion, but i really wanted to share this with everyone so… consider yourself forewarned!

i don’t talk about my job very much here because… well, all of the usual internet-fearing reasons. as public as i tend to be with my private life online, negotiating career-related things online is a whole new ball game in the digital age. you know, that typical jargony disclaimer people use on twitter and facebook to say “these opinions are my own bla bla bla.” today, i make an exception.

this morning, my short radio documentary on photobooths aired. you can listen to it online here. i had this idea back in january, finally got the nerve to pitch it to my producer in february, and slowly chipped away at it between other assignments and the daily grind. now, it’s ready to share with the world! i’m still quite new to the medium of radio, but i really am starting to feel at home with all the creative ways we can share stories using sound. i’m also ridiculously lucky (and grateful) to have some fantastic co-workers who will let me bounce ideas off of them and help me adjust my skills to the medium of radio.

the reason i’m writing about this radio documentary online is that there are so many other stories i still want to share that i couldn’t fit into that short piece, and there are also so many visual elements! where better to share those than right here?

for decades, we took photobooths for granted. cheap, high-quality instant photography is practical and useful, and will always be around, won’t it? not so certain. this technology, which has been around for a century, is taking a beating now that digital photography has taken up a whole lot of space and taken away some of that “instant” magic. after the almost-death of polaroid film, combined with the introduction of digital booths, photobooth lovers have been given a swift kick in the pants.

what can we do to make sure they stick around?

in short: we use them.

before you can use one, though, you have to kow where they are. of course, i have my trusty stand-by photobooths i’ve used countless times over the years: the one i affectionately called “my” photobooth in the quinte mall, in belleville, ontario; the ones in the greyhound station in montreal and ottawa; and one tucked away in a corner of union station in toronto. but when i moved to quebec city, i noticed there wasn’t one at the train station, or the malls i had been to. i had no idea where to find one. hello photobooth.net‘s locator feature! it’s a great resource.

a screencap from the photoboot.net website's locator feature

i looked for locations in the province of quebec… and lo and behold, all of them listed are in montreal. now, this doesn’t mean there aren’t any in québec city – it simply means they have not been documented and listed by someone for the website. one curious thing i did notice, though, was that for all of the montreal locations… the same face popped up again and again.

meags fitzgerald

that face belongs to halifax-based artist meags fitzgerald. i contacted her when i started researching my story on photobooths back in january, wrongly assuming she was a montrealer and could give me a good quebec-focused angle here. instead, it turns out meags face shows up for most canadian cities you look up on the locator feature, because she is responsible for nearly 90% of all canadian locator contributions. yeah. i know. after a brief phone call, she quickly proved she knows more about photobooths than i thought humanly possible.

she uses photobooth strips and frames in all sorts of artistic projects, in ways i could have never imagined. and i suppose i should retract my earlier statement about this post having nothing to do with fashion… her garden state project clearly begs to differ. she makes her own clothes, and uses the same fabric to wallpaper the background of the photobooth she takes the photos in.

two photobooth strips by artist Meags Fitzgerald from her Garden State project

two colour photobooth strips by artist Meags Fitzgerald

she’s also currently working on an animation project: a stop motion animation shot entirely in a photobooth. it’s kind of mind boggling to think of all the details involved in that process, and you can follow it on her blog. she’s launching an indie go go campaign shortly as well if you want to help make these projects happen!

my own relationship to photobooths is similar to meags at first glance.  i think we both probably started out as teenagers loving photobooth strips just for kicks, a cheap way to pass the time in the mall while waiting for our parents to come pick us up – without any inclination what we were making might one day be considered “art.” where we differ, however, is that photobooths are hardly a big part of my life these days. i can count the number of strips i’ve taken in the last year on one hand, and the nearest one to me is in a part of town very unfriendly to my lack of ability/access to commandeer a motorized vehicle (the fanciest way possible of saying: i hate car culture). this makes no one sadder but myself. that said, i think this is a better opportunity than ever to share some of my favourite photobooth strips.

my own more creative photobooth strips were hardly one of a kind originals, i.e. i blatantly ripped off the concepts that i had seen other people do online, shared with livejournal communities in the early 2000s. my most successful attempt, though, are these two taken in a month apart in 2006.

where is my mind - two photobooth strips by julia caron in 2006

another example would be how i used photobooths more recently. i think part of my admiration for meags is that she actually executes the projects and ideas she gets instead of just letting them fester in her head like i do. i’ve got more ideas for projects than i can count, but i never end up making it happen. more recently though, i was obsessed with documenting how long my hair had grown, to try and visually represent the kind of chaotic surreal aspect of it. while i took dozens of digital photographs trying to show how long it had grown, it is these two photobooth strips that i think best represent how i felt about my long locks in an artistic sense as well as serving the basic purpose of “look! my hair is long!”

photoboothcousin ithairy pits

in this interview i did with karol orzechowski back in april 2009, i did start to reflect a bit on the question of photobooth strips as a form of self-portraits. while with a photobooth there is arguably no photographer (which is also part of my intrigue around jon rafman’s 9-eyes project on google street view) the subject remains the one who chooses how to pose, how to frame – albeit with very strict limitations. meags work plays with that quite well by creating her own environments, and it’s definitely a challenge i’d like to take on one day myself.

and how could i end this post without sharing some of my favourite photobooth strips with friends?

photobooth strips all taken in the quinte mall between 2000 and 2004 (except for the one of me and alex, i think that was taken in a gananoque mall in kingston?)

photobooth strips all taken in the quinte mall between 2000 and 2004 (except for the one of me and alex, i think that was taken in a gananoque mall in kingston?)

salima and julia in a photobooth on coney island, august 2009sves+julia amber and julia

salima and julia in a photobooth on coney island, august 2009. sves & myself, february 2012 in montreal. me and amber (who uses an adorable black & white strip for her website banner) in montreal in may 2011. perhaps when andi comes to visit in the fall it will be a better excuse than any to go on a photobooth date?

here’s to the photobooth strips of yesterday, and the ones to come.

i’d love to see yours: share them in the comments!

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3 Comments

Filed under personal, self-portraits

3 responses to “following the photobooth faithful

  1. andibgoode

    YES! I was going to ask if we could do that before I saw you thought the same thing. I seriously love this post so much – I’ve probably not taken anywhere near as many photobooth photos as you have, though. (I’ve got some from when I was a kid – even then I was obsessed with photos of myself/posing, etc. – because I would bug my mum until she’d pay for me to use the photobooth at the shopping centre). I think about all of the photobooth strips that got cut up before I could scan them, as well!
    I love all of your photos and the ones by Meags Fitzgerald are amazing – can’t wait to go look at all her work.
    I keep meaning to use the photobooth in the city here more. A lot of the time, unfortunately, it’s a choice between photobooth photos or lunch. But I’m determined to throw change in a jar and go use it whenever I can! I tend to freeze up and not know what to do once it starts going, though.
    Wow. Long comment!
    -Andi x

  2. I did some photobooth pictures the other day – except that the booth itself was too expensive for me, so my sister and I took turns at taking pictures of each other in the booth with a normal digital camera. We did “photobooth” poses, though.

    Looking forward to listening to your documentary; Meags’ fabric use is reeeeeal interesting.

  3. Allison

    I loved this when you tweeted it, but I had to let you know that I actually made good & went into a photo booth the other day! Not so flattering though… Bleeeh.

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