Photobooth portraits of an unkown man spanning three decades are a mystery

by Felix Esser

posted Wednesday, April 9, 2014 at 10:15 AM EDT


A series of photobooth portraits of the same man taken over a time span of three decades is currently puzzling historians. The pictures, which were taken between the 1930s and 1960s, all show the same person first as a middle-aged man and later visibly aged, presumably in his sixties. Besides the fact that nobody seems to have any idea as to who this man might be, the more pressing question is, why did he take hundreds of photobooth portraits of himself over such an extensive time span?

Today, the collection of 445 portraits – most of them showing the man on his own, sometimes smiling, sometimes with a more serious expression, and a few showing him with (his?) children – belongs to photography historian Donald Lokuta, who happened upon them during an estate sale. When he contacted historian Näkki Goranin, author of the book 'American Photobooths' for clues, it turned out she also owned photobooth portraits of the same man.

Images courtesy of Rutgers University

Their combined efforts in revealing the history of the photographs and the identity of the man portrayed led them to the previous owners of the collection, who first acquired it at an auction in Michigan. There, however, the trail ends. They speculate that he may have worked for a photobooth company, maybe as a technician who would frequently service and then test the photobooths. That would explain the vast number of pictures, and the long time span over which they were taken.

However, that is merely a wild guess, and there is no proof for this theory. Which means that the case will most likely remain a mystery. That is, unless somebody – a relative, former co-worker or friend, or decendants of either – can identifiy the man and shed further light on the origin and motivation behind the pictures. In the meantime, the collection can be seen live at the Zimmerli Art Museum in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

(Rutgers University, via The Verge)