Above: A Photo-Me photobooth as of 2018. Credit: Photo-Me.
The digital photo image--as JPEG--has come to dominate in our (Western) photo-visual culture. But through these first twenty years of the Digital Revolution there is one type of "hard copy" that has remained resilient: passport photos from a photobooth. The Photo-Me photobooth (in England) is still going strong (since 1962).
The photobooth is unassuming--found out-of-the-way on station concourses and tucked away in malls and department stores--it is rather Benjaminian in that it is "unremarked, forgotten, cast adrift." The photobooth remains the only photo-specific component in the built urban environment (CCTV cameras excepted). The machines offer a set of four colour photo-portraits for £6. Shot, printed, and ready-for-collection within three minutes.
The photobooth is so mundane and bland as a thing that one does not necessarily stop to connect it to the tradition that it represents. The automatic photobooth is the last surviving version of the great photo-portrait studios of the late-nineteenth century.
Until the selfie becomes acceptable for passports, the automatic photobooth will remain unique in the built urban environment--like Polaroids we will only really miss these machines when they are gone. Photo-Me photobooths are as much a part of the social history of England as the red phone-box and the Royal-crested pillar-box.
(2 March 2018)