Want to play Amélie Poulain? Now you can do it with real style. This summer’s most surprising fetish object is the photo booth—but it’s undergone what Parisians like to call a “re-looking.”
There is no need to fear harsh light or dingy curtains in these Paris photos. Photomaton, the largest supplier of booths in France, asked designer Philippe Starck to totally redesign their baby. His result offers a near perfect Paris photo—one you can now send, using a 3G connection, straight to Facebook, Flickr or email.
“These machines,” says Starck, “are witnesses to all of life. They see children, tourists, lovers, jokers, drinkers. It’s such an ordinary thing that we tend to forget about it. To re-dress it with a new, intelligent elegance will allow it to grow old with our identities.”
The new machines will be phased in come autumn, but the first is up and running in the Châtelet metro station. It features a snazzy touch screen inspired by the iPhone. There are also softer lights and a new capture system, one that calibrates exactly where you are seated. The results are surprisingly flattering—and are creating a new photo mecca in Paris.
The sleek and cozy booth deserves its trendy hangout status. That round stool on which you perch has become a bubble lit from within. Also on offer is a wide selection of themes. You can still use the machines for your passport or metro card, but their real draw is a wide range of “Photos Fun.”
Here you will find nods to art history, from the Surrealists (who saw the photo booth as “a form of psychoanalysis”) to Warhol’s Pop portraits, and you can pose for some “cartes postales” (postcards). For these, you place yourself in front of the Eiffel Tower, comb your hair and smile—then “post” the results to your Facebook page or your smartphone.
The Starck design’s only competitors are its vintage predecessors, truly retro booths supplied by a company called La Joyeuse de la Photographie. It was founded by two former art students, who supply refitted photo cabins on demand. “These are dream machines,” a spokesperson says of their beloved atmospheric little huts.
My favorite retro booth sits in a corner of the Palais de Tokyo, where it is patronized by a constant stream of trendy tourists. But there are others you can try at Maison Rouge, the Cinémathèque Française and the Cité de la Musique‘s exposition on singer George Brassens. Proud parents may also wish to check out the one at Bonton.
But watch out, because both the old and new machines are addictive! Maybe it’s the romance of taking a secret photo in Paris; maybe it’s the new ease of sending off proof that you’re here. Either way, it’s not hard to become as obsessed as Michel Folco, the author who found himself addicted to searching for photo booth rejects: “It became a total mania that lasted one year, during which I filled a whole blank album. Towards the end, I met [Amélie director] Jean-Pierre Jeunet and I showed him my book.”
Jeunet took some notes and told Folco to guard his story. “He said he was eventually going to use it. Later, when he was making Amélie, I loaned him the album. So my story became that of the film.”
Result: a classic, influential Paris romance—thanks to the special French touch of Photomaton.
Snapshot happy? Here are more retro photo booths in Paris (in French).
Editor’s note: Are you a budding photographer? Why not work with our friend Sophie of Better Paris Photos? She’ll act as your guide to Paris through your camera lens. Walk away with much more gorgeous Paris photos and memories. Book a class today.