A coworker brought in his recent Smithsonian magazine to show me an article about photobooths. You can read that article Four for a Quarter, by Kenneth R. Fletcher online here. The article told about how photobooths had become so popular after their inception that people that couldn’t afford to purchase one would build their own, sometimes where a person would be hiding on the other side of the wall of the photobooth, actually taking pictures, developing them and then sticking the finished processed pictures through a slot, never tipping off the customer that the booth wasn’t fully automatic. The first photobooth location was called a “photomaton”.
The term photomaton makes me think of automaton, (automatic machines) which then makes me think of one of my favorite artists, Joseph Cornell. I can’t remember if I ever read if Cornell had an affinity for photobooths, but I could easily imagine they would have been an interest of his. I’m not exactly sure of the history behind the “omat”, “omatic”, “omaton” terms, but there is definitely something in me that is interested in finding out more. The terms brings to mind Ron Popeil, the great inventor and salesman. I saw a great show on him at the Chicago Cultural Center several years ago. You might know of him from greats such as the chop-0-matic and veg-o-matic. Back when plastic was king, and remember the classic movie line – “I have one word for you… plastics”. I am the proud owner of a point-o-matic pencil sharpener from the 50’s, but I don’t think that was a Ronco product, oh well. Back then all of these automatic things were THE FUTURE and bright and shiny and new and now they relate closer in the context of this summer’s flick Wall-E and how this little robot was saving, collecting and cherishing all those outdated, unloved, replaced items. Now there is plenty of worry about plastic, but that’s a completely different subject for a different day.
Back to the photobooth and automatic machines. What is it about me that is just so attracted to photobooths, polaroid cameras, old vending machines and even gumball machines. When I was a kid we had an old pachinko machine, it was the coolest thing ever and looked kind of like this.
Of course, this post could not be complete without mentioning my love of Artomat. I think Clark, the creator of Artomat, must also share a fondness for automatic machines as well as he is the one who designs, remodels and repairs all the machines that now dispense artwork, nationwide.
And before I sign out: Here is a cropped detail of another original circle piece in my etsy shop. Click the link to see the full thing.
Have a great long holiday weekend, for those of you who get Monday off. Maybe you can find the time to track down an old school photobooth near you.