Robot 6

Fitzgerald’s ‘Photobooth’ tells a story of pictures — in pictures

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[Editor’s note: Every Sunday, Robot 6 contributors discuss “The best in comics from the last seven days” — from news and announcements to a great comic that came out to something cool creators or fans have done.]

Meags Fitzgerald‘s Photobooth: A Biography is my favorite sort of book, the history of a common object that folds in all sorts of interesting side stories along the way. Photobooths were once ubiquitous in malls and shopping centers; you put in your quarter, mugged for the camera, waited what seemed like forever, and collected your strip of three or four photos to swap with friends or pin to your bulletin board. When I was growing up they were just sort of there, and nobody thought too much about them.

Fitzgerald does. She lays out the history of the photobooth in meticulous detail, but her story is never tedious because she looks at it from so many points of view: the invention of automated photo booths, the advances in technology over the years, the different people and companies that made and maintained them, and also the way photobooths and photobooth pictures reflected the mores and trends of the times. And that’s not all: She even considers the afterlife of the photobooth, as they fade away from everyday existence but remain popular with a small band of enthusiasts and artists.

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The other strand of this story is Fitzgerald’s own fascination with photobooths and photobooth photos, and she describes and draws the photos she takes of herself, her friends, and her family as well as found photos that she collects. This balances out the history and keeps the book from getting too dry.

The graphic novel medium is ideal for a book like this, because it is so visual. There are the photos, of course, but also the different makes and models of photobooths, which often had a distinct look that reflected contemporary design trends, and the technology, which is easier to see than to read about. She uses a crisp line and just enough detail to let us know what we are seeing, without being overwhelmed.

Fitzgerald is a photobooth nerd the way that so many of us are comics nerds, and in Photobooth: A Biography, she invites us to share her enthusiasm. Even in this era of digital photography, it’s hard to resist.

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