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March 18, 2023

Willy Michel Photomaton: French Photographer Posed With Famous People in His Photo Booth for 20 Years, ca. 1932-53

“In 8 minutes, 6 different photos for 5 francs.” It was, in Paris in 1928, the advertisement for these photo machines freshly landed from America where they had been invented four years earlier by Anatole Josepho.

“You pose for 16 seconds, continued the sales pitch, moving, turning, taking various poses and expressions and, 8 minutes later, you automatically receive 6 perfect photos, all different. You will pose when it suits you, when you feel beautiful; you no longer waste time and it’s no longer a chore but a game.”

Among all the “beautiful” fellows who rushed into it in the following months, history first remembered the grimaces of Raymond Queneau, Yves Tanguy and René Magritte; then fourteen other Surrealists posing with their eyes closed to frame the reproduction of The Hidden Woman by Magritte, in their review La Révolution Surréaliste of December 15, 1929.

In the summer of 1928, Willy Michel (August 20, 1905 – March 1, 1976) began his co-starring role in a series of photo booth portraits that would continue though hundreds of sessions and some twenty years. Michel, a protégé of Henri Martinie’s portrait studio, had the idea to ask of-the-moment French celebrities and visiting artists to join him inside the Photomaton booth he had installed at his photography studio at No. 26 Boulevard des Italiens in Paris. His booth-mates were mostly French music, film, and theater types, nearly all of them completely unknown to a contemporary or modern American audience.

In 1937 he left the Boulevard des Italiens for the nearby street of the same name where he still officiated in 1952.

with Arturo Saraiva Mendes d’Abreu, known as Porto

with Georges Gacon

with Harry Baur

with Henri Alibert

with Jean Galland

with Henri Bosc

with Maria Casarès

with Bing Crosby

with Sidonie Baba

with Alfred Pasquali

with Erich von Stroheim

with Janine Crispin

with Lise Delamare

with André Alerme

with Suzanne Desprès

with Marcel André

with Sesshū Hayakawa

with Georges Chepfer

with Rosita Montenegro

with Georges Rollin

with Mila Parély

with Noël-Noël

with Jim Gerald

with Rita Georg

with Colette Betty

with Lyne Clevers

with Denise Berley

with Jane Sourza

with Jeanne Fusier-Gir

with Cécile Sorel


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