The Fotoautomat. Youre not a Berlin Hipster if you haven’t taken your picture in one of these machines.
The Fotoautomat has always been a part of Berlin (and the rest of Germany), hanging around near S-Bahn /U-Bahn and Train Stations, waiting for someone to have their Passport Picture taken or just to have a fun picture as a good memory. With Photographic Technology evolving, it seemed like these Photo Booths might die out like so many machines from my childhood (im looking at you coin operated cigarette machines and yellow phone booths) – but no! It looks like they are making a full blown comeback.
The Photoautomat – or is it Fotoautomat?
The concept of a Photo Booth dates all the way back to 1888, when William Pope and Edward Poole (from Baltimore, USA) filed a patent for an automated photography machine – which was never actually built. In 1889, the French Inventor T.E Enjalbert and the German Photographer Mathew Steffens constructed working machines, which turned out to be not reliable enough to be self-sufficient. The German Inventor Conrad Bernitt managed to build the first successful Photo Booth in 1890 in Hamburg. It is interesting to note that all these machines produced Ferrotypes (in simple terms – the positive images was directly created on a metallic plate). The first machine which managed to produce photos with a negative and positive process was invented by the German Carl Sasse in 1896.
Photo Booths as we know them today were invented by the Russian Immigrant Anatol Josepho in 1923 in New York. He produced a working prototype and presented it on Broadway, which turned out to be an instant success, despite the pictures taking 10 minutes to develop. In 1927, Josepho sold the US Rights to an investment group for 1 million dollars (and guaranteed himself royalties from then on).
With the introduction of Digital Cameras, most of the older Fotoautomaten were replaced with newer and quicker models. And that was that. Until someone realized that Black and White Photo strips are awesome.
Soon enough the machines started reappearing on the streets. For the price of 2 euros you get a strip of 4 photos, that smell like cabbage. Cabbage?
Well you see, these machines still operate with a mini chemical lab inside of them. After the photographic paper is exposed, it is then dipped in various chemical baths. This causes the rather odd cabbage smell.
They’ve proven so popular in Berlin (especially the one on the Kastanienallee, much to the ire of the locals) that they have begun to appear in other European cities such as Vienna, London and Florence.
There are currently 17 Fotoautomaten in Berlin (1 of them even being a color Photo Booth) and there’s a handy map from the photoautomat.de website to show you where you can get your next hipster fix.
Over time, ive stumbled across a whole host of empty photo strips (much like in the movie amelie) – and it took me a while to figure out what the deal was with them. Earlier this year, the misses, my younger brother and me were walking home late at night and stopped by the Photoautomat on Schönhauser Allee. One of the Photoautomat Technicians was busy servicing one of the machines and he let us have a good look inside and explained how a few things worked. He closed the machine, and set off a test run, checked if the flash worked and left.
And thats why we kept on finding the empty strips. I love these machines. I love film photography, and I love their novelty value. An added bonus: unlike German phone booths they are respectively clean and don’t smell like urine. And they don’t have little Russian babushkas sitting in them.
very nice post and pictures! i hope you don’t mind when i link back to a similar post of mine 😉
Not at all! love the pictures in your post;) might got around and see if i can get a picture taken in all of them…
there is a new one at warschauer ecke mühlenstrasse that takes colour pictures! if the colours are as vintage as the black and whites are, this could be very interesting.
mhh yes -I only heard about that one recently. But you loose a bit of the overexposure that you have in the B/W pictures – its the reason why they always look so good, you dont notice any wrinkles/flaws
Lovely article. I really appreciate all the research you put into your posts. These photobooths are like candy for photographers. Such a nice red, that contrasts with the greyness of much of their surroundings. And we are all suckers for film even if we shot digital (or perhaps esp. because of it).
Here is my take on the genera: http://portfolio.radiant-flux.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/MG_3907.jpg
Frohe Weihnachten and Guten Rutsch!
Thanks Patrick – hope you had a great start into the new year. Though I primarily mess around with digital, my heart belongs to film. Ive got something for all film lovers coming up soon, so keep your eyes peeled!
I think one very important thing to say about these things is that you cannot retake pictures and there’s actually no big pause between one shot and the next one: everybody looks completely silly on his first try, cause they don’t know when to expect the four shots ^^
I have a feeling that some of them take longer between shots than others…. and you always look silly no matter what 😛
I love these things & can barely ever convince someone to get in one with me, so I treasure the few that I have. Very interesting hearing more about the machines, the mystery strips, and the history. Can’t wait to see the rest of your 111…
the misses doesnt like them either – or at least she pretends to not like them (she doesnt seem to like photos of herself). I force her to go into them everytime we pass one and I think secretly shes happy that weve amassed a small collection of stupid pictures.
Thanks for the info. This one is right next to my house. Will give it a try!
A few drunken experiences witnessed, which were all too fun. This past August, we had a group photo taken in Kreuzberg, but I then felt dirty because I shared in a hipster experience … either that, or the woman whom I was interested was drunkenly draped over another dude ….
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Your map isn’t up to date anymore, it would be very nice, if you could exchange it, otherwise people could search for booths that don’t exist anymore and that’ll maybe cause frustration!
There will always be latest map of all Berlin Photobooths on our Site: http://www.photoautomat.de/standorte.html
If you want, you can deeplink the picture of the map from our website (http://www.photoautomat.de/bilder/standorte-2014.gif).
Thank you very much and greetings,
Konrad, Webmaster photoautomat.de
Hey everyone! It may seem kinda strange what I’m about to ask, but I REALLY need to know this: does anyone have any idea of the time spacing between each photograph is taken? Like 2 seconds, maybe?
I’m planning to do a huge thing in one of the fotoautomats when I visit Berlin next March and I’ve got to get my timing picture perfect for this (pun intended).
Thanks in advance!
Im not sure but its def. longer than 2 seconds – more like 5. You can email them though and ask -> firstname.lastname@example.org
if you do get an answer let us know!
Thank you so much for the reply! I’ve e-mailed them and if they respond I’ll post the information here 🙂 If it is 5 seconds between shots It would help me out a lot!
The reason I’m asking this is because I’m planning to propose to my girlfriend in one of those machines – so you can understand why I’ve got to get my timing just right!
Thanks again for the tips!
All the best,
I just heard back from the guys at photoautomat. The first flash occurs within 5 to 10 seconds and the rest usually has an interval of 7 seconds between shots!
Thank you so much for all the help!
great! hope it all works out for you! The day I got married – my wife and I took a photo in the Photoautomat, and every year for our anniversary we go back and get another photo. Let us know next year how it went!
Yours is the BEST website and FB page of all !