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Photobooth: A Biography

by Meags Fitzgerald

Photobooth pictures can be among the most priceless, personal artifacts of our fading past. Illustrator and comics artist Meags Fitzgerald explores the fascination with these ephemera through an obsessive, autobiographical account of her relationship with vanishing “chemical-dip” booths that once flourished in malls and bus stations.

Not exactly a graphic novel, Photobooth is more a documentary on paper: an illustrated account of a young artist embracing both her medium and muse, interwoven with the history of photobooths from their origins in the 19th century to their current Internet- and smartphone-driven decline. There is no irony in Fitzgerald’s treatment, only unabashed love. For the author, photobooths are a means to explore an intimate relationship with time and a sense of self.

Fitzgerald’s journey follows her progress from high-school booth fanatic in Edmonton to young artist discovering her voice to international wanderer in pursuit of like-minded devotees. Yet with each step, she is haunted by the knowledge that she has given herself over to a medium that “is already on the brink of extinction.”

It’s surprising that something as commonly overlooked as a photobooth could be so lovingly rendered, but Fitzgerald’s images, from historical models in Montreal metro stations to still-active Tiki-themed booths in L.A. bars, testify to her love for the technology. The author’s choice to explore the subject of photography through illustration is perhaps unusual, but it works, lending the material a human touch.

Fitzgerald interviews dozens of artists, collectors, technicians, and curators in an attempt to discover if there might be a higher purpose to her quixotic pursuit. Her obsession goes beyond a mere passion for things retro, and bleeds into an examination of the factors that transform a fetish object from something that is merely old to something that can be described as “vintage.” The book has much to say about the passions we give ourselves over to – all without once mentioning the word “selfie.”