Four for a Quarter

Photographer Nakki Goranin shows how the once ubiquitous photobooth captured the many faces of 20th-century America

There are about 250 authentic chemical photobooths left in the United States (Reprinted from American Photobooth (c) Näkki Goranin. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.)
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By mid-century, photobooths were ubiquitous. Jack and Jackie Kennedy stepped into one in the 1950s. Yoko Ono and John Lennon included a reproduction strip with their 1969 recording, "Wedding Album." In the 1960s, Andy Warhol shuttled models with rolls of quarters from booth to booth in New York City. A 1965 Time magazine cover features Warhol's photobooth portraits of "Today's Teen-Agers."

These days digital photobooths, which became available in the 1990s, let users add novelty messages and backgrounds and delete and retake shots. Allen Weisberg, president of Apple Industries, which has manufactured digital booths since 2001, says digital photobooth sales continue to grow. "Photobooths have made a tremendous resurgence," he says. "It's like apple pie and baseball. It's part of our heritage." The digital booths are being used in new ways. Lately, a number of companies have popped up offering rentals of lightweight, portable photobooths for use at weddings and parties.

But Goranin and other purists long for the real McCoy with its distinctive smell, clanking machinery and the fraught anticipation that comes with waiting for the photos to appear. A Web site,, documents the locations of a dwindling number of these mechanical dinosaurs.

"The old chemistry booths, which I love, are becoming harder and harder to find," says Goranin. "But the [digital] booth is still a fun experience. You still get great photos. You still have a wonderful time in them. You still have the old-fashioned curtains that you can draw and that sense of mystery." Goranin smiles. "There's nothing in the world like a photobooth."

Kenneth R. Fletcher last wrote about Richard Misrach's beach images.


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