John and Jackie Kennedy did it. So did John Lennon and Yoko Ono. More recently, teen sensations Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez succumbed. These celebrity couples and many thousands of regular folks have had cozy tête-à-têtes in a photo booth. While it can elicit all manner of goofy poses, the photo booth has long been the province of romance, as well. The intimate quarters, the privacy, the velvet curtain — and the allure of the eyewitness camera — have inspired couples to press cheeks, sit on each other’s laps and share kisses since Siberian immigrant Anatol Josepho perfected the photo-booth process in 1926.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that modern versions of the vintage booth have been showing up at weddings in recent years. After all, a camera sans photographer inspires all sorts of acts — creative, naughty and romantic alike — and there’s no disputing the nostalgic appeal. Still, what is it that prompts brides and grooms to spend between $500 and $2000 on a photo booth when a professional photographer is also making the rounds to capture the big day?
For Chelsea Maisel and her fiancé Jeremy Oclatis, who are getting married in September in Grand Isle, part of the appeal is the idea of (gasp!) actually printing out a photograph.
“It’s fun and adds excitement to the night, but it also allows people to take a moment from the wedding home with them,” Maisel says. “I didn’t want to give out cheap party favors that no one would ever look at again.”
Some brides and grooms are keeping the photo strips for their own memories: Pasted into albums alongside comments, they’re more fun than the traditional leather-bound sign-in book.
“Our guests kept some of the photos for themselves, but also cut out a few and pasted them in a guestbook with a little message next to them,” says Molly Trevithick, who got married in 2008 and rented a booth from the Burlington-based Vermont Photobooth Company. “Every now and then I take that book out and laugh out loud at some of the photos our family and friends left for us.”
The first booth-for-hire popped up in St. Paul, Minn., during the late ’90s. Since then, props including mustaches on a stick, funny hats and glasses, and chalkboard talk bubbles have crept into the photo-booth culture, encouraging creative poses and the packing of mobs of guests into the tiny booth. The camera, of course, always encourages shenanigans.
“People feel like they can get silly, being in an enclosed space,” suggests Burlington artist and DJ Kyle “Fattie B” Thompson, who had a photo booth at his September wedding to Emilie Szakach. “Many had no idea that we got copies of every photo taken afterward — and boy, were they surprised!”
Thompson isn’t the first to embrace a photo booth’s artistic value. Andy Warhol (whom Thompson cites as an artistic inspiration) once ferried a gaggle of teens around New York City photo booths in the ’60s, supplying them with rolls of quarters and turning the project into “Today’s Teen-Agers,” featured on a 1965 Time cover. Awash in Warhol’s signature colors, the doctored photo strips are vintage yet hip. It’s a part of the phenomenon that Burlington photographer Nakki Goranin explored in her 2008 book, American Photobooth, which depicts photo-booth sessions throughout the device’s history.
At around the same time as Warhol’s experiment, Joan and Don Caron ducked into a photo booth at the Woolworth’s lunch counter around the corner from where they both worked in Plattsburgh. Their son, Jeff Caron, discovered the 1961 snapshot in a box in 2000. Intrigued by the photo and inspired by “all types of American machines, from popcorn poppers to penny arcades,” Caron launched the Vermont Photobooth Company in 2006 to “maybe make a few bucks on the side.” Now he owns 15 photo booths — 10 for event rental and five rare vintage specimens from the 1940s through ’70s that he is refurbishing.
Caron estimates he’s provided a photo booth to more than 1000 events to date. Molly Trevithick’s guests were having so much fun with theirs that “when the time came for them to shut down the booth, I actually ran and got my checkbook and had them stay an extra hour!” she says.
As traditional wedding photographers seek to cash in on the trend with portable “photo-booth experiences” made from PVC poles and curtains, photo-booth operators are upping the ante. Chris and Tracy Centracchio, who run the Vermont division of Photobooth Planet, recently decided to put the concept on wheels.
“I’d always wanted to restore a Volkswagen bus, and this gave me an excuse to roll it into our business,” says Chris Centracchio, who is creating the Vermont Photobus out of a 1966 VW. “I’ve seen wedding photos where the couple incorporated a VW bus in the background and thought, Why not?”
Since each booth weighs between 500 and 750 pounds, you can hardly blame him for wanting to make them more mobile. But, no matter what format the photo booth takes, it isn’t likely to disappear anytime soon — not as long as there’s a velvet curtain and a camera to set the mood.