Friday, August 20, 2010

In Strips of Four

Do you remember photo booths? They were those little booths in amusement parks and some stores where you could go inside, close a curtain, put a quarter in a slot, then pose 4 different times. Sometimes you and a friend sat together for photos and made funny faces, changing positions between camera clicks. Sometimes you sat with your best smile because you wanted to give one of the photos to a boyfriend or girlfriend. When you were finished you had to wait 5 or 10 minutes before the strip of 4 photos slipped out of a slot on the side of the booth. And then you usually laughed or chuckled at the images because your expressions were funny or you were pleased that the photos came out so great.

When looking at my grandmother's photo album I was surprised to see a strip of 4 photos of her sister, Mary Ellen Bickerstaff (known to us as Aunt Mame), at a fairly young age, in 4 different poses. Aunt Mame was born in 1899. Guessing at her age in the photos, I'd say these were taken in about 1920.

I also found these photos of my grandmother, Emma Bickerstaff Meinzen. These are interesting because she changed the background in one of the shots. She had to move fast to make that change because there were perhaps only 30 seconds between shots.

You can nearly always tell the photo booth photos because they have a dark border on at least 2 sides, sometimes 3, and sometimes all sides, depending on how the strip was developed and the photos separated. When the strip came out, the photos had to be cut or torn apart.

Looking through the rest of the photos in both my mom's and my grandmother's albums, I found more photo booth photos. It was interesting to see that my mom had one of the photos and my grandmother another from several strips.

Here are a few more. The companions to these were probably given away to friends or other family members and are long gone. Individual photo booth photos were usually about 1 1/2" x 2".

Another interesting aspect of photo booth photos is that there was no photographer, no man or woman behind the lens of the camera. A person who may have been self-conscious in front of a photographer didn't need to think about someone watching while he or she was posing for the camera. In most of the photos it seems that the person looked directly into the lens of the camera. Hooray for us to get that direct eye contact with the individual these many years later!

The Photobooth Blog shows two different photobooths here and here. I wanted to include the photos on this post but couldn't link to just the photos and I didn't want to copy the photos and break copyright. (If you click on the highlighted text it will open a new window in your browser, you can look at the photo booths, then close the window.)

Do you remember photo booths? Do you remember when and where and with whom you had photos taken? Do you have any photo booth photos among your family photos?

Others will probably not be highlighting photo booth photos this week but you can link to lots of other old photos at Sepia Saturday. Happy viewing!


  1. Your ancestor's photobooth shots are highly collectible. There are two wonderful books about photobooths filled with fun photos.

    "Photobooth" by Babbette Hines

    "American Photobooth" by Nakki Goranin

    I just bought an album full of mostly nothing until I found the 15 photobooth shots. I sort of snickered as I walked away from the seller's booth knowing I'd gotten such a great deal.

    Very fun shots!

  2. An unusual and interesting Sepia Saturday post. I know I have one or two photo booth strips in the collection. One was taken with my grandfather, while we were on a family holiday.

    There certainly is a strong family likeness between your grandmother and her sister.

  3. Those are great! The thing I like about photo booth shots is that you see people smiling. Most of my photos from that era include stony-faced people, but the photo booth ones show teeth.

  4. these are so great. i will have to check out that photobooth blog you mentioned.

  5. These are very cool. Yes, I remember photo booths very well, especially squeezing in with several friends and trying to get a good picture of everyone without closed eyes or heads cut off.

  6. Yes I have lots of photo booth photos. But I thought it was a fairly new invention. I'm surprised that it goes back that far. I enjoyed looking at your photos and I'll be interested to go to the link.
    Our photo booth was in front of Thrifty's and there was one (or more) at the state fair.

  7. I remember photo booths! In the Fifties my friends and I loved them! But, as far as I know, I don't have any of the photos anymore.

  8. What a wonderful post, I didn't realise that there were photo booths that far back. I remember being in London in 1973 and a friend and I had our photos taken in a photo booth one very wet day ...we had to do something to amuse ourselves! I enjoyed seeing your photos so much.

  9. Oh Nancy, you awaken so many memories and ask so many interesting questions. And that first photograph is a right treasure : I never realised that photo booths went back that far. Thanks also for the links.

  10. Nancy - I have often thought of doing a post just like this! What a wonderful collection of older photo booth pictures you've got! I too have a bunch from the 50s. I must pull mine out again and get them all in order and write that post - you beat me to it :-)

  11. I absolutely LOVE old photo both shots. It seems like it was the perfect opportunity for people to make funny faces or try to fit additional people into the booth. They were invariably fun and lighthearted pictures. The Seattle Art Museum had a photo booth installation recently (maybe still) and you could take your photo there too.

  12. We Still Have Then Here! But in Colour, which (for me)loses something.
    Interesting what you said about the dinamics.Yes,no photographer changes them.Makes them more spontanious?
    Do you remember Record-Booths, where you could record a 3 minute 45 record? I made a Rolling Stones song in one once!!!!

  13. First, I want to thank all of you for visiting and commenting.

    Second, I want to say that I think I didn't emphasize enough the fun of photo booth photos -- of cramming into a tiny 3' square booth with several other friends to make faces into the camera while giggling uncontrollably. And then the surprise afterward of seeing those photos and giggling again. Of course, not always was it that way. Sometimes there were serious photos, like the ones above. Those photos were such a bargain at 4 for a quarter!

    Tattered and Lost, I have Goranin's book on reserve at the library and will pick it up tomorrow. I'll see if I can find the other one you mentioned. I didn't know about the collectibility of these photos, I'm just glad to have found them. Congratulations on your good buy!

    Martin H. - Lucky you to have several whole strips! I think it's so interesting to see the 4 photos in a row -- to see the slight or great changes in the faces. Perhaps you'll share them some Sepia Saturday?

    I think there's a similarity in my aunt and grandmother's faces, but if/when you see photos when they were in their 50s and 60s, you'll notice an even stronger resemblance.

    Dorene, thank you.

    Kerry, I think that must be true because the camera in the photo booths took the shots more quickly and people didn't have to hold the pose for so long.

    Gibknitty, you can click on the link and it will take you to the photobooth site.

    Meri, did you ever succeed in getting good shots with several laughing girls? And did you split the photos afterwards so each could have one as a memory of the day? I think that's what we did. (And that's why I have ones and twos and not strips of four.)

    Barbara and Nancy, I hope you'll post some of yours. I dearly want to see a vertical strip of four again!

    Vicki -- did we not think much of the photos and just threw them out, or did everyone else get one and not us? I just can't remember what happened to some of the ones friends and I took together, though perhaps I went on a cleaning spree before I realized what I should and shouldn't throw out!

    Marilyn - I guess cramming into a photo booth is one way to get out of the rain! You probably had to be very careful that the photos didn't get wet....

    Alan and several others - you commented about how far back photo booths go. I hadn't realized they were in existence as early as 1920, either, until I looked at It was a surprise to me.

    I have a double photo of my great-grandfather taken when he was about 12 or 14, in the early 1900s, which I think might be photobooth photos also. They are the same size as the strip of 4 of my great-aunt at the top of this post (which is about 1 1/4" x 1"1/2 each photo). There are only 2 left on the horizontal strip, but the background is the same in each and he wears different hats in the 2 photos. If they ARE photo booth photos, I wonder what happened to the other 2.

    Cindy, yes, yes, I hope you WILL write that post. It would be fun to see your photos. (Sometimes I feel like I'm scrounging to find photos to post for Sepia Saturday!)

    Christine, I wish I lived close enough to the Seattle Art Museum to go look at the exhibit. I wonder where they got the photos to exhibit. And whatever happened to negatives from all those photos, anyway?!

    Tony - I agree, color would definitely be less inviting than sepia. But I guess they'll be interesting and collectible 60 years from now! I was going to say no about the record booths, but now that I think about it, I think my sister came home for the fair once with a record booth record that she and some friends had recorded. Do you still have yours? It must be a treasure!

  14. I just loved those photobooths... we had one in our hometown that we used a lot, but the last one I saw was about 5 years ago, and it's long gone now. The spontaneity of the experience, and the short length of time between the photos, really produced some interesting shots! Thanks for this very interesting post.

  15. Yes, Karen, it's true about the spontaneity. Sometimes there was barely time between clicks of the camera to change positions/faces, etc. Sometimes we were caught off guard, no quite ready for the next click -- and there was the side or top of the head, or the chin, or maybe even a scowl. Or a blur.

    There was a photo booth at a nearby theater a few years ago but I can hardly call it that. The photos (one, not a strip) were taken with a digital camera, printed on regular letter size paper in black and white inkjet ink, and were very grainy. Nothing like the ones above.

  16. Love these! B and I saw a photo booth at the movie theater the other day and were tempted to take some photos.

    I'm reminded of this video!

  17. Natasha, that is a really funny video. Thanks for sharing it.


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