Fleming captures nostalgia

  Found primarily in public places such as shopping malls, photobooths may seem today to be nothing more than nostalgic fixtures primarily for lovers and preteen best friends. Upon further consideration, however, and examined in their historical context, it becomes clear that, since their invention, they have been much more than that. An exhibit currently on display at the Fleming Museum — “Picture Yourself: The Photobooth in America 1926-2010” — takes a close look at photobooths. Assembled by Burlington-based artist Nakki Goranin, “Picture Yourself,” displays a number of photos taken in photobooths over the last eight decades, discusses the history of photobooths, and even holds a working vintage photobooth where visitors can take photos of themselves. The photos in the exhibit — both in strips and single photos — depict young people, old people, pairs, groups and people alone. Some of the people are average looking, others are wearing costumes or uniforms. One photo, for example, is of a young-looking sailor and bears a note next to it that informs the viewer that “a sailor I met” is written on the back of the picture. Most of the photos displayed, however, bear no description at all, except perhaps a vague date or some information about the technology used. The people in the photo are a mystery beyond what you can deduce from the photo, and perhaps this is a positive thing. “One of the most compelling aspects of photobooth photography is the ambiguity or mystery in many of the images, which invites the viewer to imagine the relationship between the subjects, or the circumstances of the photograph,” a paragraph alongside the photos said. Looking at photos of smiling young men and women together, laughing and kissing, or children making funny faces, it is easy to imagine such things—a young couple perhaps, childhood best friends. And notably, these are not professional photographs. The exhibit emphasizes this, presenting photobooths as an opportunity for intimate self-portraiture, rather than as some kind of gimmick. “The first photobooth opened in … 1926, offering the opportunity to have one’s portrait made without the expense and formality of visiting a commercial photographic studio,” an introduction to the exhibit displayed near the entrance said. Especially with some of the older photos, the informality of the format provides a rare opportunity to see photos from long ago that are not posed or stiff. These are not the photos of your grandparents that you see sitting atop your mantle —they’re moments captured on film of people as they were in daily life. “Photobooth photography fills a void that no other process really touches,” Goranin said. “The privacy of being in a small womblike booth allows people a freedom to be themselves,” she said. “Private, no Internet, no photographer making judgments it’s just you, or you and your friends, or you and your date, lover etc.” Though in modern times there are opportunities for informal photography outside of the photobooth, Goranin doesn’t think this makes the photobooth obsolete. “I don’t think the digital revolution, the cell phone camera or whatever will change the magic experience of sitting in that small, curtained, tiny, personal little room,” Goranin said. Goranin has authored a book titled “American Photobooth” that displays many photobooth photos. The exhibit at the Fleming ends Sept. 14, after which time the vintage working photobooth in the exhibit will move to the record store Speaking Volumes on Pine Street in downtown Burlington, Goranin said. “Students can come in and get their photos taken for posterity,” Goranin said. “My booth, manufactured in 1960, was originally in Times Square and was probably one of the booths used by Andy Warhol … I don’t know how much longer the photo paper for it will be made, so people should try to get the experience while they can,” Goranin said.