oh photomaton, what's gone wrong?

Monday, November 08, 2004

Originally uploaded by nardac.
As everyone who lives in France knows, this is the country of filling out papers. It's common to see ordinary people hoarding huge stacks of paper, old bills, old electricity bills, every single slightly official paper around. And why? It's because every application you make to get something done, an apartment, a residence permit, a driver's licence, even a video-store card, requires some of these forlorn papers. My EDF bill has passed through so many hands by now that it has to laminated soon.

In addition to the papers, they sometimes ask for an 'identity photograph.' It's not uncommon to see CVs, otherwise completely unadorned and badly designed, with a little self-portrait.

So, with the dire need for so many identity photographs, the french have had to do away with the official portrait photographer identity photos. You know... you go to the back of Sooter's or Black's, and there's this terrible portrait studio light setup with a nasty polaroid camera aimed in your direction. Some person with less talent than my big toe tried to put you into focus, pushes the button when you least expect it, and then spends 5 minutes blowdrying the sheet, only to give you 4 unphotogenic portraits afterwards, charging you upwards from 10 bucks for the nasty.

In france, you can just go to the photomaton to get your photos done. They're the same machines you see in North America, little lonely booths hunched next to the metro and train stations. You put in the money, pose, and 2 minutes later, presto dasto photo!

But something has happened here. In North America, or at least the last time I was there, they were still using something akin to a photographic process. You got four different poses, then you got them still damp from their chemical process. I've always been a big fan.

In France, the process is now digital...and this brings some distinct benefits. For example, you can now take your poses, then choose which one out of three you want printed. You can see what you're going to look like before giving the ok. It's not bad, and it removes a certain anxiety.

But it also takes some of the fun out of it. I mean, I love the different poses in a grid. Instant four piece masterpiece. I also adore the fact that you can't choose what you want, and sometimes the mixture of the good with the bad is what makes a good photomat series.

But the thing that irks me the most about the new photomatons is the lack of true colour and resolution. My prints are always blurry, and lacking in either magenta, or cyan, or yellow. My skin colour is already a dubious mix of orange brown yellow...but in a photomaton, I always come out a sunny bleached greenish grey. It's bloody irritating.

You're probably saying, what's the big deal? The deal is simple. When you carry those little photomat pics in your wallet, they're little treasures, aesthetic objects. It's harder to treasure someone who's grey and fuzzy than someone who's clear, unrestrained with a human skin colour. And, it's harder to treasure something you know is not a unique object. Finally, it takes all the fun out of divvying up the four shots between friends, like pieces of a four-part jigsaw puzzle.

But, I have to be honest. They're useful, those photomatons, for the files. I just wonder if in the future, when these pictures really start to fade, what people will think of all our green and purple faces. It's like we all have the future skin disease of our generation.