This Mystery Man Took Hundreds Of Photobooth Self-Portraits—But Why?

Illustration for article titled This Mystery Man Took Hundreds Of Photobooth Self-Portraits—But Why?

We don't know the identity of the mystery man in these photos, but, starting in the photobooth boom of the 1930s, he began snapping black-and-whites of himself. Thirty years later he had hundreds of nearly identical shots, and now the entire collection is being shown to the public for the very first time. This is some Amélie-in-real-life biz, and hoo-boy it's fascinating.

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Illustration for article titled This Mystery Man Took Hundreds Of Photobooth Self-Portraits—But Why?

Photo historian Donald Lokuta found the set of silver gelatin prints at an antiques show in 2012 with little context, and began trying to track down more info about this middle-aged muse.

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He got in touch with Näkki Goranin, author of American Photobooth, who, in a strange twist, also owned a handful of images featuring his face; but ultimately they weren't able to unearth anything beyond the fact that, at some point, the batch was bought from a Michigan dealer.

Illustration for article titled This Mystery Man Took Hundreds Of Photobooth Self-Portraits—But Why?

So what the heck was his obsession? Why was he repeatedly sitting in the spotlight and staring straight into the camera? Lokuta reckons this guy might have been a technician, testing out the equipment with a quick pic—which, c'mon, are you kidding me?? It's almost impossible to believe Jean-Pierre Jeunet hadn't also seen these before writing the twee screenplay for Amélie, because this is so on the nose.

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Illustration for article titled This Mystery Man Took Hundreds Of Photobooth Self-Portraits—But Why?

Except! Instead of ripping up the evidence and tossing it into the nearest trash, this fella kept them all. Which raises even more questions: Was it a long-term creative project? A casual but persistent picture buff? Vivian Maier's long lost soulmate?

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Illustration for article titled This Mystery Man Took Hundreds Of Photobooth Self-Portraits—But Why?

At this point, it's impossible to know whether he would be delighted, overwhelmed, or otherwise that these will be viewed—and analyzed—by people across the world as part of Rutgers' Zimmerli Art Museum Striking Resemblance: The Changing Art of Portraiture exhibition. Here's hoping he'd be genuinely thrilled, because this is precisely the kind of thing that gets imaginations running on overtime and all kinds of feelings flowing. [Junk Culture, Rutgers]

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DISCUSSION

randywalters
randyman

This is, without question, the coolest thing I've seen all week.

And if anyone reading this doesn't understand the references to Amélie...

"Amélie is a 2001 romantic comedy film directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Written by Jeunet with Guillaume Laurant, the film is a whimsical depiction of contemporary Parisian life, set in Montmartre. It tells the story of a shy waitress, played by Audrey Tautou, who decides to change the lives of those around her for the better, while struggling with her own isolation." (From Wikipedia)

Please make an effort to see it. When I list the films that have brought me the greatest joy, Amélie is one of the first five I count off on my right hand. It is a perfect film, and you owe it to yourself and the universe at large to experience it. I can safely promise it will make you happy you did.