Comeback of Photo Booths Exposes Yearning for What’s Real
Cellphone photos are disposable and forgettable. In a photo booth, you plunk your money in and the result is frozen on film and in time. Hipster bars lead the way.
Bess Byers, left, and Melissa Dominguez photograph themselves in a photo… (Gale Holland / Los Angeles…)
I was taking photos at a music after-party in Pomona when a guy went off on me for stealing his friend’s image.
I might have been forgiven for thinking the friend would appreciate the attention. He was standing in the back room of Aladdin Jr.’s cafe with an open umbrella over his head. But no matter; I explained I was a journalist.
His buddy was having none of it.
“You’re just another girl with a Tumblr account and a camera phone,” he sneered.
I was shocked. And not only that he would think someone my age would stay up that late if I didn’t have to. Had the generation that documents each new cocktail and dessert tray on Facebook finally realized it was over-exposed?
Umm, no. Rest assured, we are all still our own celebrities, recording every move for our 2,568 friends. Which is why it’s strange that something so old-school and hokey as the vintage photo booth is making a comeback.
In a handful of hipster bars — Cha Cha Lounge, Edendale Grill — people are lining up to cram into photo closets, pull the curtain closed and wait for the flash to pop and freeze their goofy expressions. Corporations, sensing the next big thing, are even renting photo booths for promotional purposes.
Back in the day, photo booths made sense. We had to wait days for the drugstore to develop our film. Three minutes after we fed three bucks in the slot, the film strip, damp with developing chemicals, slid down the metal chute, and we were grabbing it away from each other to see how we looked.
But now? There’s a cellphone camera in every pocket. Digital photos appear instantly. And with a few extra taps, we can beam them to our friends and relations almost as quickly.
So what’s behind the photo booth revival? At heart, I think it is a longing for authenticity. When we don’t like a cellphone photo, we hit delete and do it over. Photo booth photos are of the moment. Once the money is plunked into the little metal slot, we have to live with the consequences.
“I’m so over digital,” said Bess Byers, a Venice marketing researcher darting out of the One-Eyed Gypsy’s vintage booth. “With film you only have one shot and that’s that. You have to make it count.”
In the digital world, “you could take a picture of a cockroach and make it look like Godzilla,” Orange County resident Fernando Lazaro, an office worker, said, explaining why he and a friend ducked into the photo booth one night last week at the One-Eyed Gypsy bar downtown. But in the photo booth world, “this is real.”
Photo booth photos fulfill my yearning for a lost physicality. The march of technology has wiped out so many things we used to hold in our hands and savor. Clicking through photos in front of a screen is an evanescent thrill that can’t compare to leafing through a photo album, or spotting a childhood shot of a friend spilling out of a cardboard box.