Books

Photobooth

Unlike most photo books, this one isn't made for the coffee table. It's the size of a typical trade hardcover and outwardly gives little hint that it's anything but a clever memoir or novel. Photobooth, however, contains more than 700 photobooth portraits taken over the past 75 years — some grainy black-and-whites, some colorized, some modern and richly defined — all cleanly laid out with lots of white space.

Babbette Hines, a collector and dealer of vernacular photography, culled the images from her larger collection of found photographs. She seeks such portraits in flea markets, antiques stores and anywhere else one might chance upon discarded pictures.

The people captured in these shots are diverse in age, ethnicity and manner. They're everyday folks who at one time or another put their money in, closed the curtain, sat for a few moments looking at a dark lens and tried not to blink when the flash popped.

Because there was no photographer to please, no one to tell them to smile and, most importantly, no proof if they didn't like the results (seeing as how the shots are easily torn up once printed), these portraits are as candid as they come. They capture the charm of the photobooth itself — anonymity, spontaneity and instant results.

The affordability of personal cameras and the advent of the Polaroid have nearly driven the photobooth to extinction, but some still exist at boardwalk arcades and tourist hubs. And there's something about playing a game of Skeeball while waiting for the photos to drop from the slot, still wet with ink.

Part of the charm of this book is not knowing who these people are, or were. There are husbands and wives, friends and lovers pressed closely together. There are soldiers in uniform, perhaps creating a keepsake to send home to a loved one. There are wide-eyed infants, professionals, mall rats, loners, plain Janes and comely girls-next-door types. They're striking poses, acting natural, mugging and sheepishly looking off to the side — sometimes all in the same four-strip. And based on their expressions, their dress and the period of photo quality, you sometimes find yourself making up stories and giving life to the nameless and timeless images.

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