Thursday, January 3, 2013


Andy Warhol, Bobby Short, 1963

The abridged press release that follows below (the full version can be read Here) announces and describes the new exhibition at Vienna's Kunst Haus: "Photo Booth Art: The Aesthetics behind the Curtain, from the Surrealists to Rainer and Warhol."

It's a neat idea for a show and I'm sure I'd love to see it, although I think the write-up verges into  overseriousness and aesthetic piety.  

For me, photo booths mainly recall innocent wild fun with friends, free and young living in an unhinged period, thinking we were looking good, completely unmindful of  death.  The Vietnam War notwithstanding, death literally meant nothing to us.

The exhibition pictures included here, except for the two bracketing 1963 Andy Warhol portraits of  Bobby Short, reflect this.   While the Warhol pictures are stately, timeless and even elegiac (like votive icons one  might find at a candle-lit saint's altar), the 1929 Photomaton images of the Surrealists and their girlfriends are the most playful and naturally spontaneous images of these famous personnages I have ever seen.  Salvador Dali and Gala look superbly and naturally in love; fearsome André Breton, auto-serial-photographed with Suzanne Muzard, seems positively cuddly.

Yves Tanguy alone seems to be working out kinks I suspected, but never knew for certain, existed.  God bless him and his beautiful, silent, intense art.

Vienna.  If only I could travel there tomorrow (and buy a new loden coat).......I surely would.

Suzanne Muzard and dog, Photomaton portrait, 1929


The little photographs that come out of photo booths have been a source of fascination ever since their very early days in the 1920s. This is related both to the fact that one such little photostrip can preserve a personal remembrance in condensed form and also to the often ambiguous ways in which a photo booth can be used to play with one’s own identity. Analogue photo booths, which work on the basis of photochemistry, became a dying species in the 1990s and disappeared from the urban landscape. They were replaced by digital successors designed to produce biometric passport photos. In recent years, however, analogue photo booths have seen something of a Renaissance, and have now become cult objects. 

Suzanne Muzard (l) and with André Breton (r), Photomaton portrait, 1929

When the first booths produced by the Photomaton company appeared in Paris in 1928, artists, too, were fascinated by the possibility of obtaining automated self-portraits within minutes for very little money. The Surrealists were the first to recognise the artistic potential of photo booths. Many other artists were to follow, for example Cindy Sherman, Arnulf Rainer, Andy Warhol and Thomas Ruff. Behind the curtain, a photo booth is an intimate place; yet, paradoxically, photo booths are found mainly in public spaces where large numbers of people come and go: train stations, underground stations, shopping centres – and, most recently, also venues of the arts and culture. 

Gala Eluard and Salvador Dali,  Photomaton portrait, 1929

The fact that these machines, with their strictly regulated modus operandi – four photographs taken at intervals of seven seconds each – were the only witnesses of what went on behind the curtain captured the artists’ curiosity. They began to play with the automatic function or attempted to get the maximum narrative potential out of the photo series. Actually, the photo booth was designed for the purpose of producing photos for the official authentication of a person’s identity. Consequently, the idea of also using this machine to illuminate and question one’s own identity, to play with that identity or even reconstruct it, was – and is – particularly intriguing. 

Yves Tanguy,  Photomaton portrait, 1929

With more than 300 works by about 60 international artists, the exhibition “Photo Booth Art” introduces us to the world of the “aesthetics behind the curtain”, which range from the photo booth’s “original” function through artistic ways of playing with identities to the telling of short stories or the creation of individual worlds."


Andy Warhol, Bobby Short, 1963 

The Kinks: People Take Pictures Of Each Other (Link)  

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