In the age of digital cameras, the photo-booth experience leaves nothing to the imagination, producing flatly lit low-resolution printouts of the image you choose for official documents. If you were born in the 1970s or earlier, you may recall the joy of doing stupid things in a photo booth. The TF team recently relived this experience, as are many Florentines who have discovered the vintage booth by Fotoautomatica that recently appeared, as if by magic, at the corner of via Verdi and via dell’Agnolo. TF asked Matteo Sani, owner of the booth, a few questions.
Where did you develop your passion for photo booths?
This passion started when I was a student at the Academy of Fine Arts, when our history of photography teacher showed us the installation by Franco Vaccari at the 1972 Venice Biennale. The artist put a photo booth in the middle of the room and invited visitors to photograph themselves and hang the results on the wall. I’m not claiming that this is an art project, but I like the idea that I can offer people the possibility of a self-portrait without the needs or limits of bureaucracy (the black and white results are not valid for ID). Fotoautomatica is just for fun-alone, with friends or as a souvenir of a great night out.
Tell us about the restoration project.
This is the ‘second life’ of the photobooth, and there’s no question that I’m out of my mind to be carrying out a project that requires so much time and money, but the pleasure it gives me is unbeatable. I’ve purchased numerous machines from around the world, saving them from certain death; I’ve dismantled and lovingly restored every one with an archaeological eye. Think of how many people sat behind that curtain in the 40 years that the machine was in operation. Every time it spits out, after five minutes, four unpredictable images, I know it’s worth the effort.
Is vandalism a problem?
I was initially concerned about vandalism, but there seems to be a profound respect for this rare object, so I’ve never found any worse damage than a bit of litter. Probably my refund policy also helps: if there’s any trouble with the machine (being vintage, it happens), there’s a phone number to call; I not only refund the 2-euro fee but mail people any photos stuck inside. Thus nobody has kicked the machine in frustration for losing 2 euro!
What’s the weirdest photo you’ve seen in the booth?
Anything can happen once the curtain is closed. Someone photographed a dog, alone. Some use the four different exposures to tell a story, others use written signs for messages. The creative options are endless.
Fotoautomatica booths are in Santa Croce and Livorno. More are planned for via Gioberti and other areas in Florence, pending permission from the City. For more information, see www.fotoautomatica.com.