Although photobooths are relics of a bygone, pre-camera-phone era, they remain part of the public consciousness. Maybe it's because they wrap up the temporary in a permanent package, loosing a strip of pictures that capture one moment, one party, one day with your friends or lover. The best photobooth photos have couples lip-locked but with one eye to the camera, looking out at us long after the moment has passed and the photos are stuck to the fridge. The booths have also played a vital role in cinema, from the iconic image of Superman's costume change to the collection of discarded photobooth photos in Amélie. "There's a nostalgic, can't-put-your-finger-on-it feel about photobooths. Nothing takes pictures like that," says local photobooth artist, owner and enthusiast Tim Garrett, one of this year's International Photobooth Convention (IPC) organizers.
Perhaps the photobooths' uniqueness explains their longevity -- the booths were developed in the 1920s and have remained in public use since then. There are about a half-dozen traditional booths in the St. Louis area, not including the newfangled digital machines that look like arcade games. "They crop up in urban areas mostly," says Garrett. Perhaps the most famous photobooth was the one in a New York subway station near Andy Warhol's Factory. Warhol was a huge photobooth enthusiast, and he used to drag people to the booth and use their pictures as art -- fittingly, the postage stamp commemorating the godfather of pop art is a photobooth portrait doctored with pastel hues.
An opportunity for St. Louisans to celebrate all things photobooth arrives when the Seventh International Photobooth Convention rolls into Mad Art Gallery (2727 South 12th Street; 314-771-8230 or www.madartgallery.com) Monday and Tuesday, May 30 and 31. Not only can the public go to the conference, but attendees also can slide into the machines and contribute to the photobooth art project on display at the convention's end.
The IPC is here through the tireless efforts of Garrett, who manages www.photoboothstl.com, where you can see dozens of shots of the strangers who have rented his machines. Garrett is a photographer and artist who fell in love with photobooths three years ago. "It's becoming more and more of a full-time thing," he says of his hobby, which was inspired by Warhol's work with the machines. Four of Garrett's booths will be at the convention, including one he designed, a vintage booth completely refurbished with digital components. It's on display (and in use) now at Mad Art as an installation piece -- Garrett's programmed it to function like a traditional photobooth, but after you're finished mugging for the camera, it spits out LA homicide photographs from the '50s.
Previous conventions have been masterminded by U.K. artist Mixup, who will be on hand at the St. Louis gathering, making it officially international. Last year's IPC was in the Serbian capital of Belgrade, and Garrett, who was unable to attend, says, "One of the main reasons for my organizing this year's in St. Louis was so that I could be there."
It's always a party at Mad Art, and the Seventh International Photobooth Convention will be no different. On Monday night there's a brief lecture about photobooths in film beginning at 7:30 p.m., followed by a cash bar and a screening of Amélie at 8 p.m. The following night offers a more traditional art opening from 6 to 9 p.m., with wine and cheese, photobooth pictures and a Latin jazz combo. These events and most others are free; for more information visit www.photobooth.net/convention.