There are geeks for just about everything, nowadays.
Meags Fitzgerald, a self-professed photobooth nerd, has created what has got to be one of the most impressive acts of devotion to a hobby: a 280-page graphic novel. In Photobooth: A Biography, Fitzgerald weaves her own story of researching and celebrating photobooths with an extensive history of this easily overlooked corner of photographic history. It’s certainly not the first subject one associates with graphic novels—actually, there’s only about five books on the subject, period—but she feels the pairing works remarkably well.
“Comic books are sequential art, and there’s the connection between photo strips being narratives—they’ve got the four panels,” notes Fitzgerald, an Edmonton native who fell in love with photobooths when she was a teenager. To raise money for a trip to an international photobooth convention held in California in 2012, Fitzgerald (then a broke student living in Halifax) decided to put together a small comic-style zine about photobooths, funded through an Indiegogo campaign.
“The information just kept snowballing, and the opportunities to continue travelling and do research elsewhere just accumulated,” she explains.
After the convention, she visited Canada’s sole producer of chemical photobooths (which is the subject of her novel, as opposed to digital booths), and then travelled to other producers throughout Europe. Along the way, that 30-page comic turned into a graphic novel nearly 10 times as long, through what Fitzgerald describes as a “creative triathlon” of research, writing and drawing.
“Photobooths really revolutionized photography,” she explains. “When they were first invented it was still fairly rare to have your photograph taken; they made photography accessible and affordable to people of all classes.”
“I believe it’s a better quality of photo,” she continues, referring specifically to chemical photobooths. “But it’s also the process: in a photobooth there’s no negative. The image goes directly onto the paper. So because of that, every picture you take is entirely unique; it’s really like a snapshot in time.”
Fitzgerald also notes that chemical photobooth photos are eminently archival—images that are over 90 years old are still in pristine condition, whereas digital prints don’t offer nearly that same degree of longevity.
Original chemical photobooths are on their way out, however: by next year, Canada will have phased out all of the remaining chemical photobooths in favour of the much cheaper and easier-to-maintain digital booths—or simply doing away with them entirely, since this is a world in which everyone has a camera in their pocket. But for enthusiasts like Fitzgerald, those old machines will still occupy a unique place in photo history.
“People expect the book to be boring and when it isn’t, they seem to be delighted,” she says with a laugh. “One of the best complements I’ve gotten was that you don’t need to like photobooths or care about photobooths to like this book, but by the end you probably will care about them—I guess because I speak about it in such an impassioned way.”
Wed, Jul 30 (6:30 pm)
Happy Harbour Comics