Are Party Photo Booths another fad?

Teenagers hang out in them, Courting couples snuggle up in them, Women have stripped off in them, Fred Astaire has danced in one, Andy Warhol turned them into a business, even the photos the booth produces have become collective items for some!

Anatol_Josephoe_photo booth

Anatol Josepho in his original photo booth.

A gentleman by the name of Anatol (Josephewitz) Josepho, invented the first automated machine back in 1925 for the sum of around $11,000, about $145,000 today, a significant investment at that time. Upon first opening his studio in Broadway, it’s suggested that, up to 7,500 people a day queued to have their photo taken for the princely sum of .25c, including many notable dignitaries of the time. Needless to say Anatol very quickly became a millionaire with his automated device.

What’s staggering is the then difference in how this industry developed in America versus Western Europe!  In the UK for example, it is estimated that there are significantly more static photo booths than the whole of the United States, similarly France, largely because of the difference in perception. Long established in the UK and continental Europe as a preferred means of obtaining a passport or ID photo, in contrast to the States where they retained an element of pure entertainment value. PhotoMe in the UK is indeed recognised as the largest photo booth operator in the world.

So what is a photo booth?

This is the $million question because it differs wildly, the many Dictionaries refer to it as a very small room which you sit in and have your photo taken by a machine, more recently Wikipedia refers to them as a vending machine or modern kiosk. There are a few, mostly professional photographers, who somewhat miss the point, and refer to a portable studio as a photo booth?

The main difference from the booths of today versus the current variety is, as with other elements of photography, the introduction of digital cameras and digital printers. Long gone are the days of wafting the ‘smelly’ print in the air until it dried.

How does this evolve to Parties & Weddings

Firstly, back to the cultural difference, Western Europe functional and practical, America fun entertainment it’s a polite way of a saying ‘novelty’. Here in is where the current phenomenon took off. Once digital cameras became mainstream and a few software developers realised, applications they had developed for professional photographers, could just as easily apply to booths, with only a few minor modifications.

The very fact that they held the entertainment value in America meant the only obstacle was portability, hardly a showstopper. From just a handful, it didn’t take long for the idea of hiring a booth at events to take off, pretty much just as with Anatols and the very first booth, the interest and growth was rapid. In around 2007 the bug really hit and even today is still growing across the States.  Interestingly enough one of only a few and perhaps the major software producer, is still a Husband & Wife team in the UK, who’s other applications are just part of a portfolio of photography related products. The key difference, though they appeared in the UK around the same time, it took longer to develop mostly due to the cultural difference in the perception of photo booths being fun/functional.

So from it’s foundation in America, Party Photo Booths, as they’ve become known, grew across the world, with a lot more interest in the UK and parts of Asia, from here it’s continued to develop globally, more recently in Europe and Australia.

Are there any differences?

This is fascinating and partly answers the question are they a fad?

In America, having now been accepted as a mainstream form of entertainment, the industry continues to grow at pace, here in the UK, whilst the industry is still growing they are still very much a novelty and the balance is only just beginning to tip in favour of them being appreciated as a common party piece, much the same as bouncy castles and chocolate fountains. I predict, this year will see the accelerated interest in the UK.

boothography photo booth

An alternative design from Boothography in the States

Interestingly though are the key differences, when the opportunity arose in America, to overcome the portability factor, many budding entrepreneurs popped into the garage and fashioned their booths out of wood, or box frames in Aluminium. This continues to day with a range of shapes, sizes, look, appeal and being polite, the ‘finish’.  In contrast, whilst a few early adopters in the UK did the same, the growth and interest from consumers hiring, and indeed new entrants into the business, appears to be in more professionally designed, aesthetically pleasing booths, at least at the time of hire! Though even in the States one or two are trying to re-define the structure. In Australia there is even an inflatable version which appears very successful.

It is of no real matter as at the end of the day the magic is in the instant print and it’s this element that carries the real emotion.

So are they a fad?

Reality says only time will tell. But let me put it this way, can you honestly remember what you had to eat at the last wedding you attended? Do you remember the chocolate fountain, what flavour were the dips? Can you recall the music? The band? Will you in 5 years? 10 years? You’re not alone, yet each year £millions are spent on these quite happily. The images captured and created by the booth can sit on your desk, in your wallet, photo album, even in a frame on your sideboard or wall for years.

What about the future, well currently available also are video booths and hybrids that perform both. Similarly green screen is becoming popular for additional creativity. Interestingly also, again originating in the States, are green screen karaoke video booths, in which you can be superimposed into dancing cartoon characters, whilst miming to your favourite songs, delivered to you moments later on a DVD.

What will they think of next?