Autofoto: A Design Department collective self-portrait

After many months spent in virtual space, we tentatively return to campus to begin another year. During this academic year (2021-22) we hope to make a portrait of the Design Department. It will be a collective self-portrait, made up of photostrips taken in an analogue photobooth, pinned up on entrance wall to the Lockwood Building. Each person will receive a token to take their picture.

Over time it will gradually grow to represent the staff, students and people that make up our community. The analogue photobooth is a fitting tool to capture a return to in-person, on-site activity, as it requires being-here for the photo to be taken.

In June 2021 Lecturer in Design Corinne Quin ran a series of photobooth experiments with students and staff, exploring the possibitiles of the photo strip format and the boundaries of self-representation.

Why a collective self-portrait?

In 1972, Italian artist Franco Vaccari presented his “Exhibition in Real Time” at the Venice Biennale. In an empty gallery room, stood an analogue photobooth, with instructions to visitors to “On These Walls, Leave a Trace of Your Fleeting Passage”. He took a single photo strip and pinned it on the wall and over the duration of the exhibition, visitors photographed themselves, in a slowly growing portrait of visitors to the exhibiton. Their presence was captured in an organic and sprawling group photo. In 2022 it will be 50 years since this exhibition.

In 2020, the Covid-19 Pandemic forced students and staff at Goldsmiths to leave the studios and work online. On digital interfaces, our faces were designed into a multi frame real-time group portrait. Horizontal computer screens re-oriented portrait formats into landscape(s). Studio space collapsed into individual windows broadcast from our homes. Suddenly, these face grids became the main form of interaction in work, school, social life, politics and the news. In this new spatial condition the interface decided who’s face aligned next to whom. We experienced each other in all sorts of times: real time, another time zone, frozen in time, as time lag, and in the past as our pre-recorded selves. We could be ʻpresent’ without showing our presence. We could be together and apart at the same time.

As we return to campus and to the studio, we ask each other how does it feel to be here, together again? How do we begin to know each other again, and rebuild our studio culture? Will things ever be quite the same?

Why an analogue photobooth?

Invented nearly a century ago, analogue photobooths produce intimate black and white self-portraits developed within their small mechanical darkrooms. The exceptional quality of the photo strips make these spontaneous and uninhibited images a rare physical memento in today’s digital age. Once ubiquitous in shops and stations across the globe, analogue photobooths are quickly disappearing with only a handful left in the world. The mission of the Autofoto project, co-led by Corinne Quin, is to ensure the survival of these beautiful machines and this unique medium of photography for future generations.

The photobooth strip has a special kind of timelessness. Each portrait is frozen within the same format, image quality and backdrop. Each photostrip looks and feelsmthe same in its materiality, texture and weight.The photo strip is a place where time and geography don’t register… a portal to another dimension. It is everywhere and nowhere.

All analogue photobooths use reversal photographic paper, produced by only one supplier in the world, based in Russia. The paper comes tightly curled on a reel, sealed in a black bag to prevent exposure to light. The length of this reel is 180 metres, and with each photo strip measuring 200mm, a reel holds approximately 900 photostrips. With each photostrip containing four separate images, an entire reel potentially contains 3600 individual exposures.

Within the photostrip format is the potential to communicate something beyond a portrait. Its 4 x 1 frame structure can be played with – both conceptually and physically. In the 1990’s, Paul Elliman created an alphabet using a photobooth. In the 1970’s Jared Bark used the photobooth to explore the form of a chair. If we think of the photobooth as a tool, a method or a process for design, what new types of images, ideas and forms could be produced using it?

We invite you to participate in our collective portrait! Find out more from Corinne Quin.

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