Collection comes as a natural progression to creation. This is just the case with my friend, artist and blogger, Katherine Griffiths. She has been not only creating a personal series of photo booth pictures for years now but also archives and curates vintage and discarded photo booth pictures from around the world.
What I find very interesting about collecting vernacular (photo booth) photography is that everyone in this space has absolutely no control over the camera or the light. Yet the pictures we see are astoundingly unique, like fingerprints on paper. In a way these pictures collected by Katherine are the epitome of self portraiture, isolated from the world, the chaos cleared from the world with a clean flash and devoid of any photographers influence.
Today I speak to Katherine about her work and her collection.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I collect photographic images, mainly of people, mainly photobooth photos. I post many of the photos on my blog Photobooth Journal, which I write from my home in Melbourne, Australia. The primary focus of my collection is a series of photobooth self-portraits, which I have been taking on and off since 1973.
I trained as a fine art ceramic designer and worked in art and craft galleries for many years before starting my own greeting card and stationery publishing company, in which I worked for 7 years.
I was diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), a neurological condition, in January 2011. I struggled with the symptoms of the disorder for more than 10 years (at various levels of severity) before diagnosis. I am currently experiencing symptoms which severely limit what I am able to do on a day-to-day basis.
Katherine, why the fascination with photobooths?
I have always loved to travel and in the 80s and 90s frequently needed small photos for visas and identity cards. I started collecting images of myself in photobooths in various places around the world as a result of this need. Photobooths were also attractive due to the frequent times I found myself in places without a camera or without a travelling companion to take a photo of me. “Selfies” were not an option I considered with my SLR.
I moved from taking photos of myself in booths alone to taking them with friends. I then began collecting discarded photos from railway forecourts and rubbish bins. I have now enlarged and developed my collection by adding purchased vintage booth photos.
When did you start collecting vintage photobooth photographs and how did you come to the idea to make your collection into a blog?
I only started to buy vintage booth photos about 6 years ago. I am a collector by nature, and it seemed to me to be a natural progression from collecting found photos to collecting vintage ones.
A love of “reading” faces was the beginning of the passion for photobooth photos, I guess. Booth photos are about head and shoulder shots. They are a photographic genre that by virtue of its predetermined purpose specialises in focusing on the face and therefore the personality of the sitter.
I particularly enjoy it when I can get booth photos of the same person over many years. Sometimes I enjoy finding one photobooth picture that can be supplemented with other types of photos to show the aging process or even just changes of outfit or hair etc on different days.
I began the blog as an antidote to the isolation ME has forced on me. It is something I can do within the limits of my health, to a schedule that can be flexible with its ups and downs. The blog not only gives me a creative outlet but has also allowed me a social interaction that is often absent for me in other circumstances.
You have photographed yourself many many times in photobooths, how is it different every time?
I am more conscious of trying to make each sitting different than I was 4 or 5 years ago. I used to be content with the visual variations brought about through the passing of time, (primarily my aging process); differences involved with where I was going or coming from; or changes in clothing and hairstyle that came about through changes of season and changing fashion.
Now I think about the type of photo I wish to make before I get to the booth. I take props and sometimes plan poses.
So how do you go about finding these vintage snapshots?
Ebay is the main place where I buy vintage photobooth strips. Most often they come from the United States but I have also bought some lovely items from France, Germany and the UK.
It is hard enough to find any type of vintage photo for sale in Australia, let alone photobooth ones, so apart from the strips I have taken, most of my Australian examples are found photos or ones friends have given me for the collection.
Earlier, photo booths were a great way to document a time or an event without having to own a camera or cope with the hassle of a lab. But today with everyone having a cell phone camera and other portable digital gadgets, do you think the idea and the emotion of getting a picture in a photobooth has changed?
I don’t think the emotion has changed. We all love to see photos of ourselves, and be remembered, no matter what technology is used to capture the image.
I think the enduring fascination with photobooths, particularly the old fashioned chemical ones, is the tangible nature of the finished product that just is not there with a digital, screen-based image.
One thing you want to do with these pictures, which you have been planning to do?
Due to my illness, keeping up with the blog is a major struggle, so I tend not to have grandiose plans for my collection. I feel a huge sense of achievement with every post that I publish, as I have to push against the debilitating symptoms on a daily basis. That is sometimes very hard.
However, I have frequently thought of ways to expand the photos into different types of art projects but have not been able to explore those ideas due to my circumstances.
An exhibition of the photos is something I might like to work on. I do not think of each strip of photos as an artwork but I like to have fun being creative with the process. As I now have over 40 years of personal history captured in photobooth photos, I do think of the project itself as a lifetime artwork but whether it would make a good exhibition is debatable.
Before we end..
I remember going on Katherine’s blog for the first time and being able to feel the emotional connection she has to the pictures she collects and shoots. When I asked her about that, she wrote something which I would never forget..
“I agree that it is sometimes very emotional looking at old photos of strangers and I also, cannot explain why. Maybe it is the best chance we ever get of being time travellers, or are we staring at our own mortality and feeling the weight of that?”
If you’re interested in looking at more work by Katherine and also have a look at her ever growing collection, do visit her blog here.