WHAT IS PHOTOMATON? ― The Photomaton is an automatic photographic booth invented in 1925 in the USA by Anatole Josepho. It was the first automated system for producing identification portraits.

It rapidly became part of the collective imagination, and literature and cinema frequently paid tribute to it. It reached the peak of its fame at the beginning of the 50s of the last century, in full “space age,” becoming a symbol of the American lifestyle, urban and mechanized.

Artists like Richard Avedon (Esquire, 1957) and Franco Vaccari (Venice Biennial, 1972) employed it as a tool. Even today, in its contemporary versions, it's a common presence in places of intense circulation.
Since its creation the Photomaton contributed to identify hundreds of thousands of people around the world and it turned into the modern symbol of one of the oldest uses of the photographic medium: the revelation and fixation of identity.

WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE, WHAT LIVES DID THEY LIVE?  ― In an era of excess of visual stimulation, images overwhelm us and render us indifferent to them. In the face of these gazes that ignore our own present gaze,  we refer to an age in which the photographic image had an individual value and in which its fixation was a ritual.

People went to the photographer, more rarely to the Photomaton, and usually had their portrait taken once per year, sometimes even less frequently. The process was  repeated when required, in special way for bureaucratic reasons.

Portraits were charged in a way that is unimaginable today, and each of them had a strong significance.

Today we show ourselves continuously;  “here I am” is the message that is iterated over and over. Before digital photography and electronic communication however, the message conveyed by the photographic portrait was, “this is me,” and usually these pictures were sent to distant family and relations.

Yesterday as today, the fixation of our image attempted to crystallize our affective ties with others.
Photographic portraits become orphans, proof of identity unable to identify anybody, affective memories whose bonds could not  survive time and the disappearance of the last people who were able shed light on the lives behind these  images.

All that remains is a whirlwind of conjectures, free and for this reason fictional. Contemporary anonymity dissolves us into a society that values individuality, but which at the same time doesn’t record our personal histories.

PHOTOMATON is a work on memory and absence that exposes us to representations of people which, as a matter of fact, cannot tell us anything about their subjects. They leave us with mere physiognomies, clues about social, cultural, financial status, which tell us very little about the actual core of the life of the people portrayed.

PHOTOMATON uses as a starting point for its reflection the automatic photographic booth, still present today in public spaces as metro stations, transforming it into a miniature museum.

(c) Projecto Photomaton 2018.