obsolete technology

From Atlas Obscura:

The Twilight of the Analog Photo Booth

The effort to save a rare beast on the road to extinction.

On a recent Saturday morning in New York, the analog photo booth in the Ace Hotel on 29th Street was out of order. Inside the booth, which costs $5 plus tax for a strip of four black-and-white photographs (cards accepted), a piece of paper hung askew atop the mirror, level with the sign reading “EYE LEVEL.” “Sorry, I’m broken …” it read. “I’ll be better soon. XO, Ace.” Barely a dozen of these film-based photo booths remain in the city, a fact that would have been inconceivable as recently as the 1990s.

In September 1925, the crowds stretched around the block for the first ever Photomaton studio, 30 blocks north of the present site of the Ace Hotel, at 51st Street and Broadway. Each subject paid 25 cents, was bathed in flashes of light, and waited eight minutes for a strip of eight photographs. Eighteen months later, the New York Times reported, “Young Photomaton Inventor Will Celebrate His First Million.” In today’s money, this would be close to $14 million.

Anatol Josepho, the inventor of the "Photomaton" photo booth that debuted in September 1925 at 1659 Broadway in New York City.
Anatol Josepho, the inventor of the “Photomaton” photo booth that debuted in September 1925 at 1659 Broadway in New York City. Library of Congress/LC-DIG-ggbain-25079

The inventor, Anatol Josepho, was born in 1894, and came from nothing. Josepho, né Josephowitz, grew up a banished Jew in Siberia. At 15, he went off to explore the world, starting in Berlin, where he bought a Brownie camera and learned to take photographs. Later, he took it to Budapest, to Shanghai, and eventually to New York. In Harlem, in 1925, he raised the $11,000 required to build a prototype for the first curtain-enclosed photo booth—the cost of nearly six reasonably sized houses at that time. Josepho was charming, and obsessed with the project, writes photographer Näkki Goranin. Despite being a newcomer to the city, “[he] was able to talk people into loaning him the money, find the appropriate machinists and engineers to help him build his Photomaton machine, and be sought out by the leading industrialists in America.”

Josepho stood on the shoulders of decades of tinkerers who had been flirting with this technology since the 1880s, when a craze for vending machines of all kinds, including seltzer, chocolate, and postcards, seized Europe and America. Concurrently, photographic technology was developing at a galloping pace. Some early booths offered prints for a penny, others unreliable tintypes with near-unrecognizable subjects. Throughout the 1920s, the technology was becoming more and more refined—until, in 1925, Josepho patented the booth that set the standard for the next 90 years.

Two friends pose for a picture in a photo booth, date unknown.
Two friends pose for a picture in a photo booth, date unknown. simpleinsomnia/CC BY 2.0

Before long the photo booth was everywhere: malls, bars, airports, post offices, Fred Astaire films. In the United States, they were often owned by the company PhotoMe, says Tim Garrett, an artist who co-runs the site Photobooth.Net with friend and colleague Brian Meacham.

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from The New York Times: When Typewriters Were the Toast of (Lower) Broadway
By TAMMY La GORCE JAN. 12, 2017

“Typewriter Row was a New York destination from the 1880s until around 1930, said Michael A. Brown, a typewriter expert who self-published the book “Typewriter Row: A Walking Tour of Lower Broadway” in 2003….But Typewriter Row, which stretched for eight blocks, from Park Place past City Hall up to Leonard Street, was not known for actually making the machines. Models from companies like Hammond, Remington and L. C. Smith were just shown and sold there.

“These were mostly the sales and distribution offices,” said Mr. Brown, who lives in Philadelphia and is editor of the newsletter The Typewriter Exchange. “Customers would come in and see the new models and test them out, but the factories were in places like Pennsylvania or other parts of New York or Connecticut.”…Passages from the 1954 book “The Wonderful Writing Machine,” by Bruce Bliven Jr., look back on Typewriter Row’s glory days.

“At lunchtime on a sunny day the sidewalks were crowded with men and women talking about the latest sensation in the typewriter business,” one passage reads. And another: “How about the feats performed by Kittie Smith, who had learned to type better with her toes than many persons could with their fingers, and was getting big publicity in the newspapers and magazines?”

Other sections detail the buildings’ décor (“the prevailing style was expensive-solemn” with “potted palms galore”) and the salesmanship along the Row (“There were only a couple of L. C. Smiths in sight, on the theory that it was psychologically more sound to display two than 200, as if the product were a rare jewel”).…

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from The NY Times:

Celebrity Answering Service Endures, Its Secrets Intact

The dismantled switchboard in the office at Belles Receptionists & Answering Service. A box containing its gutted parts sits on a shelf. Credit Caitlin Ochs for The New York Times

The office of the Belles Receptionists & Answering Service hums with ringing phones and the polite greetings of operators in a small building on the East Side of Midtown Manhattan.

“Belles,” answered a receptionist the other day. “Yes, I’ll get that message to him. Have a lovely afternoon.” She scribbled the message onto a card and filed it with others.

An industrial-looking timepiece called a Remind-O-Timer sat on her desk. Metal pegs around its face can be flipped to set an alarm; the device hasn’t been used much since the service was founded in 1956, but Belles receptionists keep it around for sentimental reasons.

A bygone era looms over the office. A mass of telephone wires had been stripped from the walls; a dark rectangular outline remains. A battered box filled with hundreds of creased note cards illuminates personalities of the past and their quirks: “Do not test her line after 8 a.m.,” stresses the card of a Park Avenue client; “Ask for correct name spellings,” reads the card of a New York aristocrat. A dismantled telephone switchboard collects dust in a back room; the company retired it this year after one client, a holdout, finally agreed to upgrade an antiquated landline.

Six of these wood-paneled consoles once dominated the office, shaping the company’s culture for five decades.

A picture from an old newspaper article on the wall at the Belles office in Manhattan shows the actress Judy Holliday, center, training with Mary Printz, left. Credit Caitlin Ochs for The New York Times

The office’s most visible relics, however, reflect its golden history. Dozens of framed, fading photos of former clients line the walls: Robert Redford. Al Pacino. Dolly Parton. Bianca Jagger. Art Carney. Dustin Hoffman. Kathleen Turner. Isabella Rossellini. Richard Dreyfuss. Liz Smith. Angela Lansbury. Swifty Lazar. Howard Cosell. Shirley MacLaine. Liza Minnelli.

The photos offer passage to an era when the Belles was the glamorous answering service to the stars, its number unlisted and passed on by referral only, its operators privy to secrets salacious or mundane. A 1977 issue of Cosmopolitan proclaimed it “the most famous answering service in the United States”; its celebrity had been established in 1956, with the opening of the Broadway musical “Bells Are Ringing,” which it inspired, starring Judy Holliday.

Recent interviews with those who witnessed the company’s celebrity period, when it was, for that matter, called Belles Celebrity, echoed the sentiment: If you weren’t on the Belles, you weren’t anybody.

Bells Are Ringing Official Trailer #1 – Dean Martin Movie (1960) HD Video by Movieclips Trailer Vault

You wouldn’t know it now, but once, six operators were seated here, elbow to elbow, night and day, inhaling packs of Winstons, taking calls and jotting notes, arms dancing across the machines as they plugged in and unplugged the cables.

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Denny Daniels’ next Secret Speakeasy event to raise funds for his Museum of Interesting Things will take place on Sunday, May 31st, 2015, 6-11pm, in the loft of 177 Prince Street. The theme: The “History of Photography & Film …especially 3D”.  Admission price: $10 to help the museum.  Beverages, alcoholic and otherwise, sold on-site at a markup.  Here is his usual pitch for the Secret Speakeasy events:

See 16mm short films
Hear original vinyl records
Enjoy actual antiques you can handle and get demonstrated!
Drink and enjoy refreshments!

However, a few important distinctions have arisen with this one: firstly, it is promoted as an “all ages” event (not that anything society ordinarily deems “inappropriate for children” -with the possible exception of an antique plug-in vibrator was exhibited/screened at the previous Denny Daniels events I have attended, and, in fact, minors were present at some of these previous events as well); and secondly, the webpage with event information now has a link to eventbrite.com to make advance ticket reservations possible. Also, a play is being performed at the same space right before the Secret Speakeasy event, and people are encouraged to attend.

Highlights of the items to be exhibited at the upcoming event include a “wristwatch”-style “spy” camera, said to use super-small discs of film, and a “rare” 3D VHS tape video camera. This is in addition to the stereoscope images, magic lantern slides, and similar items Daniels has shown at previous events.…

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The Poetry Society of New York presents The Typewriter Project: May 24-September 28, Historic District
The Typewriter Project is a series of site-specific literary installations which encourage users to go analog. The project’s pilot vessel is New York City’s tiniest writing den–just big enough for a seat, a desk, a typewriter, and you! The typewriter booth allows both seasoned scribes and first time typists to come inside and join in a citywide lyrical conversation. Every written entry will be collected, stored, and posted online for users to read, share, and comment upon. Look for the rustic, wooden booth situated on Governors Island with a commanding view of the Statue of Liberty.…

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