Who is this man and why is he obsessed with selfies? Everyone is asking themselves that same question, as hundreds of identical photos of this gentleman in a photobooth surface. At least now we know selfies aren’t a new trend, I suppose.
He was a middle-aged man when he began, and as decades passed, his hair slowly trickling to gray. Sometimes wearing a fedora, smoking a pipe, occasionally sporting a button-up or a suit, he seemed quite content in most of the pictures, often joyful, occasionally pensive. It’s likely he was from the Mid-West, they say.
The collection can be traced back to the photobooth boom in the 1930s, when he began taking black-and-white pictures of himself. Thirty years later, he had quite the collection of the exact same photo. What makes this collection special, is the repetition, the sameness in 445 portraits.
The Amélie–Poulain-esque collection was discovered by photo historian, Donald Lokuta, who found the set of silver gelatin prints at an antique show back in 2012. Lokuta began to do his research to try and solve who this mystery man was.
After getting in touch with Näkki Goranin, author of American Photobooth, Lokuta and Goranin realized they had something in common– Goranin actually owned a handful of pictures that featured the mystery man as well. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to trace any information on him.
Lokuta believes that this guy may have been a photobooth technician, testing out the equipment with a quick pic, perhaps even a traveling salesman showing how a Photomatic Photobooth works to potential customers– but why did he bother to keep the pictures, when most technicians discard them?
It’s fascinating that we have this incline to others’ personal stories, especially when it comes to vintage and antique photos. You take this memory, someone’s memory that is now a piece of paper between your fingers, and you can’t help but wonder what their life was like, what they did for a living, were they happy, did they accomplish their dreams, who did they love?
“445 Portraits of a Man” as they’re calling it, will be displayed for the first time at Rutgers’ Zimmerli Art Museum in New Brunswick through July, in hopes that the exposure from the exhibition sheds new light on this man who captured almost half of his daily life in a photobooth.