Exhibition: ‘Behind the Curtain – The Aesthetics of the Photobooth’ at the Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

Exhibition dates: February – 20th May 2012

 Jean-Michel Alberola, Louis Aragon, Marie-Berthe Aurenche, Richard Avedon, Alain Baczynsky, Jared Bark, Marc Bellini, Jacques-André Boiffard, André Breton, Hansjürg Buchmeier, Anita Cruz-Eberhard, Sabine Delafon, Anne Deleporte, Paul Eluard, Max Ernst, Michael Fent, Michel Folco, Valentine Fournier, Lee Friedlander, Näkki Goranin, Jeff Grostern, Susan Hiller, Dick Jewell , Svetlana Khachaturova, Jürgen Klauke, Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Naomi Leibowitz, Leon Levinstein, Annette Messager, Willy Michel, Daniel Minnick, Suzanne Muzard, Raynal Pellicer, Mathieu Pernot, Steven Pippin, Jacques Prévert, Raymond Queneau, Arnulf Rainer, Timm Rautert, Bruno Richard, Gerhard Richter, Thomas Ruff, Michel Salsmann, Tomoko Sawada, Joachim Schmid, Cindy Sherman, Lorna Simpson, Dimitri Soulas, Yves Tanguy, Amanda Tetrault, Roland Topor, Franco Vaccari, Andy Warhol, Gillian Wearing, Jan Wenzel, David Wojnarowicz and the group Fluxus.



Franco Vaccari. '(Exhibition in real time: leave a photographic sign of your passage on these walls)' 1972


Franco Vaccari (Italian, b. 1936)
Esposizione in tempo reale num. 4: Lascia su queste pareti una traccia fotografica del tuo passaggio (Exhibition in real time: leave a photographic sign of your passage on these walls)
Collage of photobooths mounted on cardboard, gelatin silver prints
45.5 x 58.5cm (detail)
© Franco Vaccari, property of the Artist



This is one exhibition I wish I could really see in person. Such a fascinating subject!

The images are timeless, contextless and quite beguiling. The exhibition questions the aesthetics of the photobooth through six major themes: The Booth, Automatism, The Strip, Who Am I?, Who Are You?, Who Are We?. In Melbourne there are still two black and white photobooths outside the Elizabeth Street exit of Flinders Street railway station, standing there like silent sentinels of a bygone age. I remember when I was younger queueing to have my photograph taken, for student cards and for my first passport. You needed two nearly identical black and white shoulder up portraits, no smiling, no glasses on. Now you just go to the chemist for your colour renditions. The magic and the fun has gone.

The whole performance has the illusion of the cinematic. You queue to get in, drawing back the curtain and closing it behind you, as they close the doors of the cinema. The privacy of the booth, not in darkness but behind a curtain that shields your face from prying eyes but leaves the lower half of your body exposed. Behind where you will be sitting another curtain – drawn or open? What background do you want? You adjust the seat up and down so that your face is at the correct level with the mark on the screen, enter your money and wait. The red light comes on, you (com)pose yourself and a couple of seconds later: flash! Your eyes try to recover in time for the next red light: flash!

Time seems to slow down and almost stop between the flashes of light. The experience of your performance before the screen possesses such a visceral, tense, gut feel but also a disembodied feeling. I never know how I am going to look on the cinematic film strip, not at 24 frames a second, but at 4 frames per minute. What happens to the time in between? Standing outside the booth waiting for a strip of paper with your impression on it, not knowing what the images are going to be like, whether the development of the image in such a short space of time has worked correctly – and the smell of the chemicals on the paper as you handle the still wet strip. Magic…

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Many thankx to the Musée de l’Elysée for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.


Mathieu Pernot. 'Jonathan, Mickael, Priscilla, Photobooth' 1996


Mathieu Pernot (French, b. 1970)
Jonathan, Mickael, Priscilla, cabine du photomaton (Jonathan, Mickael, Priscilla, Photobooth)
Three gelatin silver prints
540 x 195cm
© Mathieu Pernot / collection Musée de l’Élysée, Lausanne


Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled' 1975


Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 20.4cm
© Courtesy of the Artist, Metro Pictures, collection Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne


Gillian Wearing. 'Self Portrait at 17 Years Old' 2003


Gillian Wearing (English, b. 1963)
Self Portrait at 17 Years Old
Framed C-type print
115.5 x 92cm
Collection of Contemporary Art Fundació ‘La Caixa’, Barcelone
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London


Anne Deleporte. 'I.D. Stack #6' 1992


Anne Deleporte (French, b. 1960)
I.D. Stack #6
Stack of photobooth portraits, gelatin silver and chromogenic prints
6 x 5 x 3cm
© Anne Deleporte



When the first photobooths were set up in Paris in 1928, the Surrealists used them heavily and compulsively. In a few minutes, and for a small price, the machine offered them, through a portrait, an experience similar to automatic writing. Since then, generations of artists have been fascinated by the concept of the photobooth. From Andy Warhol to Arnulf Rainer, Thomas Ruff, Cindy Sherman and Gillian Wearing, many used it to play with their identity, tell stories, or simply create worlds.

Behind the Curtain – the Aesthetics of the Photobooth, an exhibition created by the Musée de l’Elysée, is the first to focus on the aesthetics of the photobooth. It is divided into six major themes: the booth, the automated process, the strip, who am I ?, who are you?, who are we? Provider of standardised legal portraits, it is the ideal tool for introspection and reflection on others, whether individually or in groups. By bringing together over 600 pieces made on different media (photographs, paintings, lithographs and videos ) from sixty international artists, the exhibition reveals the influence of the photobooth within the artistic community, from its inception to the present day.

The exhibition questions the aesthetics of the photobooth through six major themes.


The Booth

An isolated space, closed in as if it were some sort of modern confessional, the photobooth is an invitation to the most intimate revelations. Generally located in public spaces-subway station, department store or train station-it also offers an extraordinary observation point onto the urban hustle and bustle. It is a world in between the intimate and the public, the inside and the outside, the debarred and the open.



From the Surrealists to the most contemporary artists, all have been fascinated by the automatism of the photobooth. The machine does the work. The author vanishes behind the almighty technology. Malfunction can occur at times. The result is a form of poetry of the automatism made visible in its faults, failures or blunders.


The Strip

As a series of juxtaposed images, the strip recreates spatial or temporal continuities. It reconstructs improbable spaces: a closer look shows that, in fact, the adjacent image is the following image. Through this succession of images, the photobooth holds, as if folded into it, the principle of the cinema. Putting images side by side is already telling a story.


Who am I?

Identity is embodied within the space of the photobooth. It is a space for self-staging, where social, ethnic, sexual, community or any other identity can be strengthened or undone. One can pretend to ascertain one’s naked identity through the mirror of the photobooth, or on the contrary, by pulling faces or in disguise, to establish metamorphoses of the self. The photobooth is the ideal introspective tool.


Who are you?

The photobooth is not only a place suitable for self-reflection, it is also a place in which the other can be questioned, in particular through the legal identification system that delivers what is commonly referred to as ‘ID’. In devoting oneself to the compulsive and bulimic collecting of photobooth strips, one can also get lost in the faces of others.


Who are we?

While it allows us to reflect upon our own identity, or other people’s, the photobooth is also an opportunity to ponder about the nature of the couple, or the group. Inside the booth, some build their image through the mirror of the other, or of others; they pose in pairs or more, thus asserting their affiliation to a social entity. The photobooth reinforces our gregarious instinct; it embodies collective identity.

With works by Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Willy Michel, Lorna Simpson, Amanda Tetrault and the collection of albums of purikuras (see photograph below: in Japan, the name purikuras refers to a photo sticker booth or the product of such a photo booth. The name is a shortened form of the registered trademark Purinto Kurabu (プリント倶楽部). The term derives from the English print club. Jointly developed by Atlus and Sega, the first purikura machines were sold in July 1995).

Press release from the Musée de l’Elysée website


Anonymous. 'Collection of albums of purikuras' 1995-2010


Collection of albums of purikuras
Collection of digital images printed on stickers mounted in booklets
Various sizes from 9 x 12.8cm to 11.9 x 14.5cm
© Kenji Hirasawa (art collector)


Andy Warhol. 'Frances Lewis' 1966


Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987)
Frances Lewis
Acrylic and silkscreen on linen, 12 panels
162.5 x 167.6cm
© Collection The Sydney and Frances Lewis Foundation / 2011
The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society ( ARS ), New York


Jan Wenzel. 'Vohang (Curtain)' 2009


Jan Wenzel (German, b. 1972)
Vohang (Curtain)
From the series Instant History
Montage of four photobooth prints, chromogenic prints
41.7 x 31.7cm
© Jan Wenzel / Kleinschmidt Fine Photographs


Yves Tanguy. 'Selfportrait in a Photobooth' c. 1929


Yves Tanguy (French, 1900-1955)
Selfportrait in a Photobooth
c. 1929
Gelatin silver print
20.5 x 3.8cm
© Collection Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne / 2011, ProLitteris, Zurich


Anonymous. 'Walter and I at the BIG SLIDE' c. 1970


Walter and I at the BIG SLIDE
c. 1970
Gelatin silver print
c. 20.5 x 3.8cm
© Collection Näkki Goranin


Arnulf Rainer. 'No title (Automatenportraits)' August 1969


Arnulf Rainer. 'No title (Automatenportraits)' August 1969


Arnulf Rainer. 'No title (Automatenportraits)' August 1969


Arnulf Rainer (Austrian, b. 1929)
No title (Automatenportraits)
August 1969
Courtesy Galerie m Bochum
© Arnulf Rainer


Alain Baczynsky. 'Regardez, il va peut-être se passer quelque chose …' 1979–1981


Alain Baczynsky (Belgian, b. 1953)
Regardez, il va peut-être se passer quelque chose… (Look, maybe it will be something going on…)
© Collection Centre Pompidou, dist. RMN


Susan Hiller. 'Midnight, Euston' 1983


Susan Hiller (American-born artist who lived in London, 1940-2019)
Midnight, Euston
© Susann Hiller; Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London


Jan Wenzel. 'Bastler II' 2000


Jan Wenzel (German, b. 1972)
Bastler II
© Jan Wenzel & Kleinschmidt Fine Photographs



Musée de l’Elysée
18, avenue de l’Elysée CH
1014 Lausanne
Phone: + 41 21 316 99 11

Opening hours
Wednesday – Monday 10am – 6pm
Closed Tuesdays

Musée de l’Elysée website


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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