A photobooth is an anachronism. In a time when every digital device we carry in our pockets is capable of shooting a feature-length movie, a box with a seat inside and a privacy curtain, which produces four black-and-white shots of unpredictable quality and takes five minutes to do it, would seem obsolete. And yet, both the Rainbo Club and the Skylark both have them, and in both bars they are used multiple times nightly.
A few weeks ago I was a guest critic at a final thesis show at a local college. One of the kids displayed a wall of Fuji Instax snapshots with his messy scrawl underneath to indicate the date and subject. Some of the pictures were blurry, others looked barely composed, but all together they presented some sort of visual diary. In his talk before his classmates and teachers, the kid talked about how permanent and unalterable these pictures were. In a time when every image can be ceaselessly altered and manipulated, these crappy little photos felt more real to him.
I think it’s a similar thing that keeps drinkers coming back to the photobooth. They feel as if the wet, curling, chemical-smelling strips of photo paper capture an actual moment of their lives. Then they lay out all the finished pictures on the table next to their drinks, take out their iPhones, and take pictures of their pictures so they can share those frozen moments with all their friends who are probably at other bars, where there may not be a photobooth.
The fact that people still feel the need to have tangible souvenirs in this way may be a fetish or relic or affectation, but just the fact that there’s any interest at all in images which aren’t just flitting past our eyes, barely differentiated, one after another, gives me some small bit of comfort.
p.s. I went to the M.F.A. show at my alma mater and lived to tell about it.