After falling down a photographic rabbit hole, Carter Brown discovered a world of vintage photo booths. He's added the analogue beauty of a working 1960s booth to the Art Gallery of South Australia's Andy Warhol exhibition.
Carter Brown is bringing vintage photo booths back to the city
Stepping into a vintage analogue photo booth stationed outside Melbourne’s Flinders Street Railway Station, Carter Brown immediately fell in love with the object.
Four years later, Carter now runs photo booth hire company A-Town Booth and has joined a small but global community of vintage photo booth operators.
A-Town Booth’s vintage photo booth is currently located at the Art Gallery of South Australia.
The booth charges $8 per photo strip, in addition to the exhibition ticket price.
CityMag meets Carter outside the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA), where one of his vintage booths is serving as a feature in current exhibition, Andy Warhol and Photography: A Social Media.
“There’s an incredible community of analogue photo booth owners and operators all around the world,” Carter says.
“We have friends in America, London and Paris – all over the world.”
Having experienced the booth in Melbourne, Carter had an inkling Adelaide locals would feel similarly excited about vintage photo booths, if they were given the opportunity to interact with one. He began looking for one.
“I did a lot of research online. I searched archives and found the vintage booths that used to operate in Adelaide. There was one in Central Market and two in the Myer Centre,” Carter says.
While tracking down the Myer Centre booths, which have been inaccessible to the public since 2010, Carter found an operator in Adelaide.
“There was a little website printed on the back of one of the booths, which I back-searched and I got the contact details of one man,” he says.
“We spoke for a year or two, but in the end he wasn’t interested in selling me his photo booths. He has a model 11 – very rare.”
The operator’s father, Theo Zoumis, had been running booths across the country for nearly 40 years, and once owned two Myer Centre booths. Carter asked to be put in touch.
“It’s incredible how interconnected the community all are,” he says.
Carter leads CityMag past the bustling AGSA café and down the stairwell towards the Andy Warhol exhibition, where his coin-operated booth sits for visitors to use.
“There are less than 100 of these vintage dip-and-dunk photo booths in the world. I have this one, and two more in storage,” he says.
“They used to be everywhere for passport photos. At every train station, mall – everywhere.
“These were invented in 1925. This model in particular was made by the Photo-Me company in England, in the 1960s.”
Carter explains this machine has had a “long life”, including use in nightclubs in Sydney. He opens up the booth to show CityMag its inner mechanics.
Inside the machine, there is a vintage camera designed specifically for photo booths with a roll of photo paper sitting on top of it, all covered by a black cloth.
After the booth takes a series of images, the photo paper is mechanically dipped and dunked through tubs filled with water and developing chemicals.
“It’s a real-deal, analogue, dip-and-dunk photo booth,” says Carter.
“It can develop five photos at once, so five different people can come in and get their photos developed.
“When they come out they are wet, but that’s just the water.”
After sealing the booth back up, Carter walks CityMag through the exhibition, pointing out pictures that were taken in similar booths.
“This will show you how good the photo booth is. These photos will never fade away,” he says.
“Even photos from the late ‘20s and ‘30s still look as good as when they were printed on the day. Digital [printed photos] may fade over time but these definitely last forever and are a lot more archival.”
Carter’s eyes settle on a photo strip of Andy Warhol mime-punching himself in the face. He tells us he reached out to AGSA about incorporating a photo booth into the exhibition a couple of months before it opened.
“As soon as I saw them organising it, that’s pretty much when I got the photo booth in Adelaide,” Carter says.
“It fit in perfectly, reaching out to them and offering the photo booth, because now everybody gets to leave with their own pictures. They were very keen on the idea.”
More than a thousand pictures have been taken in the booth since the exhibition began.
“People really love these machines. There’s a unique charm about them as opposed to digital,” Carter says as we trade goodbyes.
“People will travel all over the world just to go to these vintage photo booths.
“I’m very excited to bring the booths back to the city. I’m passionate about keeping them alive.
“We hire them out for events. Birthdays, bar mitzvahs, that sort of thing. We’re talking with the council about putting one out in a permanent spot in the city.
“Once we’re set up, hopefully we can gain a cult following, just like the Flinders Street Station one has.”
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