Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What Happens in the Photo Booth Stays in the Photo Booth

Recently, my favorite pub installed a working photo booth. Like an abandon space capsule, it rests in the northwest corner of the Lucky 13, next to the pool table, pin ball machines and ATM. On one particular night, I had been photographing a very animated pool game, when a young couple stepped past me and discreetly entered the photo booth. Closing the curtain behind them, they stood facing each other. There was a brief discussion. I’d like to think they simply kissed before gathering themselves in front of the camera. Once seated, the mechanical paparazzi went to work. Below the curtain, between each camera flash, the couple’s feet shuffled to new entangled positions.

What happens in the photo booth stays in the photo booth. Unless the evidence gets posted on Facebook, revealed to friends and family and on view for future spouses, children and employers. Part exhibition chamber, performance art space, changing room, mug shot generator, speed dater, pornographer, the Photo Booth offers the thrill of a semi-private photo session.

I had my first photo booth experience when I was 9. It was during a family St. Louis to Florida road trip. We visited Panama City, and one evening at a carnival, we came across a photo booth. The four of us took turns, with mixed results. For my photo op, making stupid faces was the best I came up with. My 7 year old brother, not yet hip to the whole concept, was at his innocent best. He sat quietly and smiled as each shot rolled off, resulting in a very Andy Warhol series of replications. My parents, perhaps at the height of their marriage, posed like two college kids, with big smiles and suggestive expressions. Years later, in another booth, I sat with my Tilda Swinton lookalike girlfriend as we theatrically groped and mugged for the camera. It was a brief moment in a relationship that, like many, thankfully predates the internet.

Meanwhile, back at the pub, the couple’s thirty seconds of glamour came to an end. The curtain drew back. Captured on film, the couple casually exited the photo booth with their freshly printed souvenir. Sitting at the bar, they hovered over the photos, smiling in the afterglow.

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