Thursday, April 3, 2014

Click to enlarge

Lots of people this week have been calling my attention to the photobooth self-portraits shown above. They're nine images out of a collection of 445, apparently taken over the course of several decades, all showing the same man. The 445 images are currently being exhibited as part of a new art show about portraiture at Rutgers University.

I'm sure the whole exhibit is worthwhile — I hope to see it at some point this spring — but it's the photobooth images that are currently garnering the most attention. Writing at Slate, the history blogger Rebecca Onion did a good job of capturing their appeal:

The images are undated and unsorted, but you can make a mental game out of guessing how they might be organized chronologically. The man’s hair grows silver; his face gets craggy. In some frames, he smiles broadly — the grin of a kind uncle or grandfather.

The 445 photobooth shots are owned by historian Donald Lokuta, who purchased them from an antiques dealer in 2012. Lokuta has tried — so far unsuccessfully — to determine the subject's identity and why he took and saved so many photos of himself. Were the photos part of an art project? A neurotic obsession? Simple narcissism? It's a good PermaRec-ish puzzle, at least for now. Given the publicity the photos are currently receiving, I have a feeling this mystery will be solved fairly soon. (You can read more about the how Lokuta came to acquire the photos here.)

As an aside, the first person to tell me about the photobooth shots was longtime PermaRec supporter Kirsten Hively, who has a new blog about portraiture and self-portraiture, called Reflectology. She plans to use it as, among other things, a forum for portraits of herself (like many of us, she doesn't like how she looks in photos, so she's hoping all the portraits will help her come to terms with that). So far she's posted a self-silhouette and an x-ray. Not sure if she's planning to make it all the way to 445 or if she'll be content with a smaller number. Either way, it's a good start.


  1. The entry reminded me of a subplot in “Amelie.” The protagonist finds ripped up pictures of the same gentleman in the trash cans near photobooths that she frequents. We’re wondering who this guy is – and why he always takes pictures of himself and why he seems disappointed with them all.

    Later in the film, it’s revealed he’s the guy who fixes the machines. He takes pictures to make sure the booths are back in working order and then rips up his picture because it’s essentially a test print.

    Maybe this guy could be a photobooth mechanic?

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