Abbi Sims

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Abbi Sims

Photoautomat

by Abbi Sims (USA)

Since prints turned into files and paper turned into pixels the desire for something different was irresistible. In an age where digital photography is king Berlin fought back. Tucked away in the streets of Berlin are a slice of history known as the photoautomat. If you think the main visitors behind the black curtain are unsmiling passport photo seekers, then think again, because as with everything in germany’s capital city, photoautomat booths are a haven for those seeking to take a step back in time and remember the forgotten.


Portfolio from the Documentary Photography workshop with Patrick Zachmann, September 2016.

Abby’s series is amusing, intriguing, inviting, and delightful. It is very well done. I love the idea of portraits without faces, just traces of faces, only neon lights in the darkness. In the series, the consistency is obviously linked to the subject, and also to the mood:  all the photos, like in a Wong Kar-wai movie, are bringing us into that one dimension, at once lovely and melancholy, where the past meets the present, as Abby describes so well in her introduction (a wonderful text in itself).

There is not one photograph that I do not like, there are some that I prefer. I love that first photo, the self-portrait, very witty, very well composed, beautiful colors. The body gestures are very delicate and well thought, playful and poetic. The time is indeed paused.  It brings me to the universe of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,  in the spirit of the loss of the photograph, the disappearance, the remains of portraits.  There is a little hint of Back to the Future with the red digits… And it also reminds me of the very delicate and sensitive work of the young Russian photographer Evgenia Arbugaeva, and her series the Weather Man. I also particularly love the last photograph of the series, with the confetti on the floor: I love that it’s a different composition completely – a close-up – and it is such a literal yet poetic use of the booth, the chair where one sat once, where fun was had, the remains, like a moment that is still floating. Visually, it makes for a very striking photograph, in terms of shapes and colors, and the reflection of the white light, a flash or outside light- adds a somewhat haunting dimension to it.

I find it difficult to say anything negative or critical about the other photographs in the series – because the series functions so well as is, but I guess the only critic would be that I would have loved to see other photos like the first and last ones, that are similar but different. The others play with more or less light (I prefer less than more), human presence or not (both work, I do like the idea of alternating between absence and presence). Photos 2, 4, 5, 6 and 7 seem stronger to me, more striking visually, because of the play between the dark of the booth and the natural and unnatural reflections, especially in that blue car. I like the idea that the light is all at the same time natural and artificial – the neons, perhaps a car light, perhaps a flash in the distance, never obvious. I do love the systematic nature of Abbi’s quest, her obsession, in a way, with these remnants of the past. It also reminds me of the cult classic movie “Big”, and that gaming machine, Zoltar, that propels the hero into his future. I do love photo number 3 and its strangely exotic nature, this takes us to a completely different zone (and perhaps that’s the beauty of the Berlin described here). I like the experiments around the colors and lights, and also the idea of the “double booths”, that structurally make for a very interesting formal break in the series. A little bit like a hallucination, which is also the mood of the work – there is the idea of the substance, perhaps because we are looking at these boots at night time, in a zone that is clearly underground. Photos number 9 and 10 are less striking to me individually – perhaps the movement of the body in image 10, perhaps the scaffolding and bike bars in number 9, something seems slightly off in the composition as well as in the lighting that takes my attention away from that very intense moment that is the photobooth itself.

To conclude this review, I would say that Abby was very ingenious in the way she chose and treated her subject: what could have seemed at first a little bit anecdotal and repetitive ends up constituting a moving testament to one of the most important, if not quintessential moments in the history of photography: the original selfie-machine, the ancestor of the shared/sharable image, the beginning of the present - and future of - photography. This is a lovely project, and beautifully done.

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