Red Scare: A photobooth history

photobooth hireDo you ever find yourself getting curious about life’s oddities? I do. I love unearthing forgotten inventions at Trash and Treasure markets and learning about the obscure professions that people have. Recently while browsing on ebay I discovered a retro photobooth up for sale. The thing was long out of order but a collectable nonetheless and it got me really curious about photobooths. Did people still use photobooths? I assumed that they were for people in need of a last-minute passport headshot or teenage girls drunk on seven eleven slurpees. Turns out, the humble photobooth has a long and fascinating history.

I was also surprised to discover that these days there’s also a market for photobooth hire. Melbourne has just about everything if you look hard enough, and a lot of people will hire a photo booth for a party or wedding. I wonder how many of them are aware of the origins of the photobooth, how it all started with a Russian émigré in the States. Anatol Josepho was a born photographer, who travelled to China to draw up plans and raised a fortune from his rich friends to build the first “Photomaton Studio” (love the archaic name). It was put on a street corner in New York where it earned a hefty profit for its investors and of course, modest Anatol Josepho. But here comes the juicy part.

Perhaps it was Josepho’s Russian heritage and socialistic predilections that inspired him to donate half of his enormous profits to the poor. You’d think that an act like this would garner respect and admiration for the man but instead it embroiled him in scandal. At the time that this was going on in the twenties, it was the beginning of the “red scare” and the press decried him as a communist.

I never expected to learn so much good history from a photo booth. Melbourne companies that loan photobooths are actually on to a good idea.