• Meags Fitzgerald

Meags Fitzgerald’s Photobooth: A Biography has the admirable quality of being beautiful, experimental, accessible, educational and deeply personal all at the same time. The work is a thought provoking meditation on art, technology and history using the graphic novel form. It was published by Conundrum Press in May 2014 and this interview was done by email shortly after its publication.

— Mark Connery

The parts of the book I most identified with were the various points where you portrayed yourself as anxious about the project you were working on, fiddling with, playing at.  Is there any advice you'd give to someone with a harmless wonderful passion?

Any advice that I would give is advice that I didn’t follow. It’s a very strange thing to transition your passion into your employment, the boundaries between work and play become entirely muddled. I got swept up in the emotion and thrill of tracking down vintage photobooths until it consumed all my time, my money and my relationships. I would tell others to focus on balance!

I'm curious as to how you paced and structured the book.  Did you create a map or template and attempt to fill that in? Or work the other way from the images and texts on a more base level?

I made an outline by jotting down photobooth stories from my own life. Then I delved into the history, adding those stories to the outline as well and collecting vintage ephemera to use as drawing references. I finessed the narrative until there was an interplay between the historical and personal. From the outline, I developed the text for the chapters. I did a lot more research and interviews to fill in the gaps along the way. The structure and effort was really put into the text, in comparison the images came to me easily.

How did you find switching styles and sources of drawing? Were the challenges fun or annoying?

Using multiple styles kept the project interesting for me. I drew the book in a fairly short period of time, so I think if I didn’t approach each page uniquely that the creative process would have felt like eating the same three meals every day for eleven months.

Also, I’d like to think the different styles serve the story. I used more soft mediums like graphite and wax pencils in the history sections and more solid inked lines in the action-oriented, present day sections. Throughout the book there are single pages devoted to specific photobooths and each of those was very consciously drawn in a style to reflect the booth’s unique personality.

Were the decisions to combine hand lettering with computer lettering deliberate or accidental?

The decision was more situational than anything. I wanted to hand letter the entire book but I was tight on time and I also kept making changes to the text. As a compromise, we hired a designer to make a font out of my handwriting. (Which I think was a good choice because the book may be translated into French and the digital font will make that process much easier.)

I didn’t want to forgo all hand lettering however, so I decided to hand letter headings as well as the thoughts I have to myself. The entire book is written in past tense except for the thoughts which are in present tense, so the lettering choices also help distinguish the two.

Do you think photo booth art is inherently Surrealist? Do others working in the medium gravitate towards Surrealist thought?

I think that the act of a using a photobooth is inherently Surrealist in that photobooths are the perfect readymades. However, most artists using photobooths in their art practices today are drawn to them not for this Surrealist aspect but for their limitations. Photobooths are literally a box that you have to think outside of.  The art is shaped by the restrictions set by the camera’s timing and the booth’s dimensions. You should check out the art of Jan Wenzel if you’re curious about this.

Chapter 21 & 'Desmond' -- what a far out trip.  Do you find it spooky or weird having all these photos of people you've never met? Or is that just really the same as looking at a magazine?

It’s nothing like looking at a magazine. It’s totally magical. Each photobooth picture is unique because the development process doesn’t produce a film negative. Every photo is like a little record of a fleeting moment. When people first posed in photobooths 90 years ago, they didn’t imagine their portraits would be collected today; they were in a private space, free to do whatever they wanted. To own these photos now feels like a special privilege. My collection is always growing, whether it’s photos from the past or present. People like to send me photostrips that they’ve found or taken themselves.

Which, needless to say, delights me very much.