slow bus to poland > blog > Photoautomaten

In 1925, Anatol Josepho, a Siberian immigrant living in the United States, invented and patented the photo booth. A year later, it was in New York City, among the neon lights of Times Square, that Josepho unveiled his new fully automated photo booth — the “Photomaton”. Because they used sensitized paper and wet chemical, no negatives were needed in these machines.

For 25 cents, and after an 8 minute wait, every customer in the long line along the sidewalk on Broadway avenue would received a strip of 8 small black-and-white photographs.

Throughout the years, these photo booths have captured millions of moments and they have imprinted them on paper. A father with his son sitting on his lap, after the sunday mass… 2 friends spending time together… a mother looking at her newborn… a passport picture taken before 9/11…

Today, 86 years later, film stock is disappearing and Kodak-Eastman has filed for Bankruptcy. Everywhere, people use applications like “Hipstamatic” and “Instagram” on their cellphones to give a “vintage look” to their digital photographs. With these filters, they make their pictures look like the ones once produced by analog cameras such as the Polaroid or the Kodak Brownie.

Despite all of this this, it is possible to still find photo booths all around the planet. Most of them are now digital machines and of course, it will cost you more than 25 cents for your strip of small photos.

But in Berlin, more than 15 old-fashioned photo booths are spread across the city. Popular attractions with the tourists and the hipsters-trying-to-make-it-as-an-artist-in-berlin, these booths are traces of the analog era and they are filled with nostalgia and romance.

I am a photographer, and I still have memories of sitting in a photo booth, as a kid or with some friends later in my life. This is me, as a child, in 1980, sitting in the same place where my maternal grandparents once sat with their own children, after the sunday mass.

I was 3 and a half years old in these pictures. The machine is probably not the same since the photos are in color, but the background image behind me is from the same building, the Oratoire Saint-Joseph in Montréal. My grandparents were probably waiting outside of the cabin. It was maybe my grandfather who waved the cabin’s curtain to scare me while I was posing. All I know is that there is more than a 25 years time difference between the day my pictures were taken and those of my grandparents.

I now live in Berlin. Even though I am a stranger, that this is not my culture and that I will still remain “the other” even if I live in Germany for several years,  I like to believe that i am not a hipster-trying-to-make-it-as-an-artist-in-berlin! Yes, I am a filmmaker and a photographer, but I have no desire to be famous and to cry in the newspapers when my third feature film doesn’t make it to the official competition in Cannes, nor to live like a bohemian in a squat somewhere in Kreuzberg. To make a decent living and to be able to work on interesting projects with inspiring people are what I am looking for to accomplish in Berlin.

But, I am a romantic. And yes, even though I now use digital camera, I am an old-school girl, a sucker for analog technology and film stock. I own way too many analog cameras and I have a hard time seeing people using their cellphones filled with filters to create photos that they believe qualifies as “art” (although this is a topic for another post). But, mostly, I’m a lucky girl. I once met a guy in Berlin, and less than 3 years later, I’m back here with him. We got married, we traveled together and we moved back to Berlin a month ago. It is now a full circle. Like I said, I am a romantic. And since Michael is my muse, well, isn’t there anything more romantic than sitting in a photo booth with the guy you love and then waiting 5 minutes to get, imprinted on paper, a memory of an afternoon in Berlin.

There will be many other afternoons in Berlin for us… But the one when we sat in an old photo booth has been documented.


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