The Mystery Man In Those 445 Photobooth Pics Has Finally Been Identified

For years, no one knew the identity of this mystery man who, from the 1930s to the 1960s, took hundreds of photobooth pics of himself. Once his image stash became the main attraction at a portraiture exhibition, however, he became an internet sensation and, whaddya know—someone online recognized his friendly face. Meet Uncle Franklyn!

Rutgers Today reports that Franklyn Swantek, proprietor of "Michigan's largest operators and distributors of Photomatic," was IDed by his nephew, Tom Trelenberg of Minden, Nevada. Trelenberg still has fond memories of summer visits with his family in the midwest, which included tearing apart the old machines and pocketing the change.


It's a fascinating new chapter for the collection that was endlessly intriguing because of its history—or lack thereof—and now has a whole new narrative. How will it alter the way we view the black-and-whites? Does this context make a major difference? There's something definitely wonderful knowing that there was a truly jolly flesh-and-blood character behind the smiles, but it raises an interesting question: Is there any enduring enigma the internet won't eventually be able to solve?

For now, we're left to see the set with this new info. "Uncle Franklyn was a lot of fun, just a cheerful guy. It's why I kept going back," Trelenberg says. [Rutgers Today]

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.


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.

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.


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.


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?

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]