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Prompted By Photo Booths

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One of my all-time favorite movies, Amelie, has a lot going for it…the enchanting Audrey Tatou, dozens of evocative Paris locations—particularly Montmartre—and the iconic Photomaton…a photo booth, the photo booth I borrowed and tweaked for our featured image. As part of the plot line, Amelie (Tatou) pursues an eccentric and mysterious man who collects discarded “automatic portraits” he finds beneath the booth.

Even when being used for identity purposes, many photo booth photos have an aura or a certain allure about them. A photo strip of my grandmother when she was a young woman shows her wearing a fur collar (okay, a dead animal around her neck) and a decidedly coy smile; another shows my mother, probably in her early 20s, looking trés chic in a black hat with veil, and with a man she very almost married. Who knows, maybe he was my father! They offer stories for my imagination to run with. As did this passport and proof of nationality that I transformed into a three-dimensional collage.

I have several strips—or half strips, having given half away to the other half—chronicling a few of my own early friendships, and early romances. Since we rarely carried cameras back then (especially on a casual date), we couldn’t resist a photo booth at an amusement park or arcade to capture an especially fun date or promising relationship. Because of the tiny round swivel stool provided as a perch, I’d inevitably end up on someone’s lap, which was half the fun, especially once we’d pulled the privacy curtain closed. Oddly enough, the curtain shielded only our upper halves…I guess they didn’t want to give people too much privacy. And posing was always a trip…we’d usually mug for the camera, or where we thought the camera was behind a mirrored sheet of glass where we’d smooth our hair, try out a look or two. Even though spaced at regular intervals, it was almost impossible to figure out when the light was going to flash…it always seemed to happen right after we stopped posing. Then there was what seemed like an interminably long wait for the strip to finish processing and crawl down into the little cage where we couldn’t wait to get our hands on it. And then of course showing the photos to our friends, pasting them into our scrapbooks, or inserting them into plastic holders in our wallets. Which is why so many of these photos endure, and endear.


I have a fascinating book entitled (surprise!) “Photo Booth…The Art of the Automatic Portrait,” that’s a compendium of photo booth history, memorabilia, and creative use of the medium. Some artists— Andy Warhol and Francis Bacon to name just two—used it as a springboard for their  imaginations as did a gallery full of lesser-knowns. In keeping with the spirit of the book, I had some fun of my own combining booth pix with the covers of my grandmother’s old recipe booklets:


Below is my most recent strip. I can’t remember what the occasion was, but masks were involved and very possibly alcohol. Photo booths have been resurrected and redesigned for amusement at parties, graduations, weddings…everything but funerals.










Profile photo of Barbara Buckles Barbara Buckles
Artist, writer, storyteller, spy. Okay, not a spy…I was just going for the rhythm.

I call myself “an inveterate dabbler.” (And my husband calls me “an invertebrate babbler.”) I just love to create one way or another. My latest passion is telling true stories live, on stage. Because it scares the hell out of me.

As a memoirist, I focus on the undercurrents. Drawing from memory, diaries, notes, letters and photographs, I never ever lie, but I do claim creative license when fleshing out actual events in order to enhance the literary quality, i.e., what I might have been wearing, what might have been on the table, what season it might have been. By virtue of its genre, memoir also adds a patina of introspection and insight that most probably did not exist in real time.

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Characterizations: funny, right on!, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Creative as always, Barb. Love that you’ve turned some old ones into collages about your mother or grandmother, truly lovely. And you have so many that are so much fun, and the books, cookbooks and jumping off points for artists like Warhol – fascinating. You have given us a whole art vernacular and glimpse into a fantastical world. We’ve missed your unique perspective on things. So great to read this.

    • Aw, thanks so much, Betsy…so glad you enjoyed my perspective! It was fun to share it here…a golden opportunity I couldn’t resist, especially since I can’t remember any one photo booth experience in particular!

  2. Suzy says:

    Oh Barb, I love this story so much! Your artwork with the photo booth photos is amazing! Was the holder of the Spanish passport a relative of yours? I have never seen the movie Amelie, and will definitely have to look for it now. Thank you for popping back in to Retro and giving us this treat!

    • So glad you like…er, I mean love it, Suzy! I loved the opportunity to share my little passion. (Hmm, I think that’s an oxymoron!) And nope, no relative…I “found” the passport on e-Bay. I was absolutely enchanted by it…its color, condition, and especially the connection to Casablanca that added to the allure.

      You MUST see Amelie!

  3. Khati Hendry says:

    Always fun to read your stories. I had no idea you had a thing for photo booths—but of course you would! And to use them so inventively, of course again. Great collection of the old pictures. So glad you held onto them and shared the smiles.

    • LOL…I DO have a thing for photo booths, Khati! Which is why when I saw that book in the beloved and iconic City Lights bookstore in S.F., I snatched it up. It even has some fold-out spreads and a loose strip of photos (albeit a reproduction). So glad you enjoyed my contribution to the genre!

  4. Bebe, your creativity never ceases to amaze me but I’m never surprised at the photos and notebooks and all else that you’ve kept and find so perfect for our Retro prompts.

    And especially love the wonderful photos of your grandmother and your mother!!!

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    Having recently rewatched Amelie for a film class, I almost wrote about it as well! Your ability to hold on to all of the memorabilia from the past, including these photo booth strips, never ceases to amaze me. I love how you present them in such a creative way.

  6. Dave Ventre says:

    When I was a pre-to-mid-teen, there was a photo booth in an amusement park arcade not far from home The arcade was built on a dock, so it always smelled of creosoted timbers, mud flats, cigarettes and stale buttered popcorn. More than a bit shady, so of course I loved it. A photo booth, or just thinking of one, always snaps me back to the Penny Arcade at Uncle Milty’s.

  7. John Shutkin says:

    Fantastically fun story, Barb, and so glad you have dropped back in on us. As always (as others have noted), your art work is an amazing riff on the theme and, indeed, a story unto itself.

    Beyond that, the joy — and innocent naughtiness — that you bring to telling of your long attraction to photo booths has me (almost*) regretting that they were never a part of my life growing up. Somehow, I made do, but you really created some delightful photo booth envy.

    * As has been said (especially in French), I regret nothing!

  8. This piece is fun, funny and informative. You’ve opened the party aspect of the photo booth, the kind of carnival invitation to be, of an evening, someone else, a way to capture a moment of hilarity or romance. Thanks for a peek behind the curtain. Like John, photo booths weren’t part of my scene, maybe because I was busy with the stage, another route to imaginative self-invention.

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