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Photo Booths are Back! September 28, 2009

The History & Progression of the Photo Booth

Josepho is pictured here with his terrier in one of the very first photo strips ever printed

Josepho is pictured here with his terrier in one of the very first photo strips ever printed

The photo booth was invented by Siberian immigrant, Anatol Josepho and was open for business in New York City in 1925. Crowds as many as 7,500 people a day would line up to have their photos taken for 25 cents for a strip of eight. A white-gloved attendant would guide people through the process by directing them to ‘look to the right, look to the left, look at the camera’. With this new invention, people could now take a picture at any time and receive an instant print. Prior to this they would have to go to a studio to get a photograph taken, wait for the photographer to process their photographs and then return again to pick them up.

Photo booths have had a presence in Hollywood since their creation, over 80 years ago. The first photo booth appearance in a movie was 81 years ago in a film called Lonesome (1928). In the 1953 film The Band Wagon, Fred Astaire performs a number where he dances into a Photomatic, sits for a photo, the flash goes off to the music and he dances out.


My favorite photo booth appearance would be in Superman III (1983) with Christopher Reeve. Clark Kent runs into a street side photo booth just as a boy is inserting his coins. The camera catches Clark’s transformation into superman in four sequential shots and prints the photo strip. Superman dashes out of the photo booth, grabs the evidence and tears off the last photo taken which shows him fully costumed and hands it to the boy then flies off to save the day.

Woolworth's and JFK jr.

Here you see a photo booth w/the curtain removed and a photo of President John F. Kennedy jr. and Jackie

Many celebrities have posed in photo booths such as Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, Andy Warhol and including couples such as John F. Kennedy and Jackie as well as John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Andy Warhol was the first promoter of the photo booth for art. He envisioned the color and sense of movement the artist could achieve by combining a variety of poses from the booth. Warhol produced hundreds of silk screens of photos taken from several different booths. He had his own Photo booth for a short time at his factory.

andy warhol 3

In the late 1950s, Auto-Photo marketed one of their models for use to police and prisons for mug shots. This model was stripped of all decorations including the curtain. A numbered strip could be inserted on the photo or held to identify a prisoner. Auto-Photo also tried to market a photo booth on wheels that could be rolled out to riots and other disturbances so that people could be photographed on the spot. This idea of an 800 lb. photo booth being wheeled from bars to protests never took off. Nonetheless, photo booths are still used today in some prisons for mug shots as well as available for prisoners to take photos with their visiting families.

Over the years photo booths seemed to disappear from drug stores, malls and movie theatres. In fact you may not have come across one since your childhood. Early photo booths used harsh chemicals to develop their photos. They were extremely heavy, up to 1000 lbs. and often made of wood. They operated slow but created a huge amount of entertainment value for such a small cost. Some of these still exist today and are even available to rent for an expensive price due mainly to their antiquity and weight as they can take four people to deliver. Obstacles such as stairs and small spaces cause much more difficulty which adds to the delivery cost.

feather boas1

In recent years photo booths have become a growing trend once more and seem to be popping up all over again in malls, movie theatres, even bars and clubs. With digital photography, photo booths are now very lightweight and portable, print much faster and without all the harsh chemicals. Some are even larger so several people can fit in versus the original booths which only had room for one or two.

Photo booths are becoming a standard rental at all types of events. They are the new must have for weddings, bar / bat mitzvahs, quinceañeras, even corporate events. A lot of photo booth rental companies offer a variety of options including various printing layouts, Color or B&W, props so you can make your photos goofy and scrap books so that guests can glue their photos in and write messages to show their love. A lot of these new photo booths prints two photo strips at a time so there’s less fighting over who gets the photos. Plus when you share in the scrap book you still get to take one strip home. Rentals are by the hour so that guests can enjoy unlimited use, many leaving with several strips sticking out their pockets.

All in all, photo booths are back and with new technology and their enormous entertainment value I can’t foresee the interest in them ever dying out. After all, they have been around for over 80 years and are here to stay. People are even purchasing photo booths to keep in their homes for 24 hour entertainment. Photo booths bring back fond memories of our childhood and are a venue for us to get loose, act goofy and even a little naughty ; ) We cherish the photo strips forever, whether they end up buried in a box or posted on facebook, we love the photo booth and can’t get enough of it! If you have never experienced one before, I suggest you get yourself invited to a wedding or crash one if you have to. Most likely you will see a photo booth there and you will end up in that line more than once and you will absolutely love it!