The first ever photobooth was created by T.E. Enjalbert, a French inventor who demonstrated his new creation at the 1889 World Fair in Paris known as the Exposition Universelle. His coin operated device delivered a glossy portrait within five minutes, but magazine La Nature claimed in 1895 that the portrait taken was poor quality and unrecognisable. Nevertheless, the novelty of the invention led to it being installed in several Parisian attractions, until eighteen years later Enjalbert’s patent product was renamed the Ashton-Wolff and was improved to produce portraits in a shorter time.
Like many innovative products, it inspired several spin-offs across the world. In Italy a coin-operated automatic photobooth was patented in 1890, popular in amusement parks and fun fairs but ultimately unsuccessful in ensuring its own longevity. This is due to how many machines would fail because of coin jams and needed frequent repairs, ensuring that these first photobooth hire machines were never fully self-operative.
It wasn’t until 1925 when Russian entrepreneur Anatol MarcoJosepho patented the Photomaton, helping to make him a millionaire overnight. Using penny cameras and techniques inspired by his travels to China and Hungary, Josepho created the first photobooth which distributed photos in horizontal strips. Travelling to the U.S., Josepho went to Hollywood and Manhattan to find endorsements, eventually raising $11,000 to build a prototype which took eight minutes to produce eight photos. When it was introduced in its own store on Broadway, it attracted over 280,000 customers in its first six months of opening, leading Josepho to sign a million dollar deal (worth $12 million today) in 1927 for the rights to his product.
The next twenty years saw over 30,000 of Josepho’sPhotomaton booths distributed across the United States. Popular amongst World War Two soldiers and socialites, as well as famous Governors and politicians, its universal appeal meant seventy factories were soon opened across the continent which specialised in the mass production of these machines. The Photomatons were also soon shipped across to Europe and Canada, leading to new developments and innovations, including the positioning of the stool, different sizes and allowing the machines to become fully self-sufficient by the 1960s, with no need for a photographer to assist with taking pictures.
The Photomaton was soon Americanised, creating a different business model in the 1940s known as the Auto-Photo, which used different chemicals and completely changed the workings of each booth. Replacing floodlights with strobe, different designs for photobooths were created and marketed to different industries and businesses, for example one model was created for the police to use for specifically taking prison mug shots. Colour photos were later introduced in the 1970s but faced fierce competition from Polaroid cameras, leading to the company being bought by a British business and being re-named Photo-me as a result of their declining popularity.
It wasn’t until the 1990s when sticker photobooths revitalised the craze for photo booth hire, proving extremely popular in Japan, China and across East Asia were they are known as purikura. Printing at a faster rate than ever before, pictures produced were also of a higher quality, eventually becoming popular across Europe in both their fun and formal variations.
Aside from their traditional uses across the globe for photographs needed for official documents like passports or driving licenses, today photobooths are undergoing a revival as a popular feature at weddings, parties and other social occasions. It’s therefore likely that with the help of new technologies, like 3-D printing and solar power, photobooths will continue to grow as a convenient and enjoyable form of photography for many years to come.
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