Old photo booths took four photographs in succession, and each was exposed in sequence onto a strip of photographic paper. During the last decade almost all automatic photo booths have been replaced with digital successors, coinciding with new stricter regulations of passport photo standards. These machines usually have a computer screen allowing you to view the identity photograph taken, and have the choice to reject or accept it. On completion of the sitting, a single photo is reproduced three or four times, or sometimes four photos are taken at the same time by four lenses, resulting in minute differences in the final product.
If the technology of the digital machines differs from the traditional designs so has the experience of having your photo taken in a new booth. These brightly lit cases with automated voices piping out instructions are so impersonal and daunting that it is hardly surprising that the resulting pictures are as hideous as they are dismally pale in colour. Gone is the choice of coloured curtain from the old machines (blue, brown, orange), the disconcerting reflective pane of the camera, and the blinding flashbulb. While new machines quickly produce an often poor image with a quality rarely being better than a domestic ink-jet printer, the old booths churned out shimmering strips still damp from the processing chemicals.
The hit-and-miss character of the old photo booths seems to be well and truly a thing of the past, as is the joy of being able to deliberately mess up a couple of the four photos with a silly face, or a special message to a loved one. In the world of digital photography, mistakes, mess and unpredictability no longer just happen but have to be meticulously planned.
In response to a yearning for the old machines, and the warmth of a grainy image, a few restored 'analogue' booths have made a comeback in a number of European countries, in trendy arts venues, theatres and cafes. In Paris, three machines are in use in Palais de Tokyo, Espace Ephemère, and Le Centquatre, where Photomaton devotees can have their fix, and a new generation can discover the lost marvel that was once found in every train station.
Digital photo machines are now trying to put the fun back in back in the booths, offering sitters the chance to superimpose their face next to an image of the current favourite pop star or actor. But nothing can compensate for the loss of the creative possibilities of the four flashes of old passport photos, and the richness of quality and depth of the image.
Here is a link to a company that restores and hires old-style photo booths in France: http://www.lajoyeusedephotographie.com