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Part of the photobooth experience included striking different poses by following the instructions to "look ahead, look to the right, look to the left, look up." These photobooth images show Victor G. Reuther while he was in his twenties, about 1930-1935. Victor, a leading labor organizer, was the younger brother of Walter P. Reuther, president of the United Automobile Workers union from 1946 to 1970. ID.THF71681, THF71682


January 2010

Photobooth Pictures: Self-Portraits in a Heartbeat

During the middle decades of the 20th century, thousands of Americans stepped into photobooths and posed for informal self-portraits.  The automated mechanism in these small freestanding structures took a series of photographs in quick succession, and printed them out on a paper strip within minutes.  The process required no photographer to operate.

This type of automatic photography debuted in department stores in New York City during the late 1920s.  Other stores, restaurants and tourist attractions around the country and the world quickly acquired photobooths for their customers.  Visiting a photobooth to take appealing "instant" images first became a favorite pastime for office workers on their lunch hour, and then quickly became standard fare as a leisure activity and for visiting travelers.



MORE:  Photobooth Pictures: Self-Portraits in a Heartbeat


The age of photography dawned in 1839--but for many decades, most Americans experienced photography only as formal portraiture done in a photographer's studio.  By the 1900s, amateurs could use a snapshot-type camera to take their own photographs of their family and friends, their homes and neighborhoods, and their activities and interests.  But the negatives made in these cameras still needed to be printed in a separate process.  The photobooth of the mid-20th century provided entertaining self-portraits printed in a matter of minutes.

The photobooth was the invention of Anatol Josepho, a Russian-Jewish immigrant who began working on a coin-operated automatic camera and direct-positive photographic print processor in 1913 at age 19 while living in Budapest, Hungary.  In 1921, Josepho moved to Shanghai, China, where he established a professional photo studio and continued to refine his invention.  By 1925, he moved to the United States, first working briefly in Hollywood to gain knowledge about motion picture technology.  Josepho then set out for New York City where he successfully raised the funds to build his first model of what he called the Photomaton.  In 1926, he launched his first Photomaton Studio in New York City’s Times Square.  Josepho’s photobooth quickly caught the public’s attention.

Photobooth self-portraits were especially popular with young people--although children and mature adults also participated in this form of photography.  Ubiquitous from the 1930s into the 1950s, photobooths continued into the later 20th century.  Today, few of the original wet chemical process photobooths exist, but they have a dedicated following. More typical are the automated booths that use digital image technology, located at many museums and tourist destinations.

Photobooth images from the mid-20th century are often unidentified. However, we do know the names of the fun-loving couple shown in these photos: Harvey S. Firestone Jr. and Elizabeth Parke Firestone, the son and daughter-in-law of Harvey S. Firestone Sr., the well-known tire magnate. These engagingly informal photographs were probably taken in 1935, as the couple began a trip to France. ID.THF71673, THF71670, THF71671
This young woman, dressed in a warm woolen coat, is posed in front of the photobooth’s painted backdrop of a winter snow scene. This photo was probably taken between 1945 and 1950. ID.THF71759

Two women wearing hats share a photobooth and smile, about 1935. Handwriting on the back reads "Emma & Mom." ID.THF71712

This young teenager poses in a charming manner, sitting sideways with her eyes looking away from the camera in this photo taken about 1935. Perhaps it was given to a beau, since she wrote "Love, Ruth" on the front. ID.THF71714

Two young military men and two young women crowd into one photobooth, perhaps while enjoying a night on the town during World War II. ID.THF71676

Photobooth images are wonderfully candid, often capturing the sense of fun people had in taking these self-portraits. Here, four young boys have a great time smiling for a photobooth camera about 1965. ID.THF71761

See more photobooth pictures from the collections of The Henry Ford on Flickr.

-- Cynthia Read Miller, Curator of Photographs and Prints

Visitors to Henry Ford Museum can enjoy taking their self-portraits in a reproduction, mid-20th century style photobooth that produces digital color prints. ID.THF76015



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