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May 5, 2023

Funny Photo Booth Selfies by French Surrealist Painter Yves Tanguy, ca. 1928

Surrealism was born from a need to examine and understand the self; not the obvious visible self but the stream of one’s uncontrollable consciousness which the Surrealists felt was quotidian to human existence. When the Photomaton arrived on the Champs Élysées in Paris in 1928 it provided the perfect vehicle to make this cerebral happening a visual reality. This fascinating machine, invented by Anabol Josepho in 1925, produced an automatic strip of images without the intervention of an operator – it was the precursor and much more romantic version of today’s digital ‘Photo Me’ booth. Fuelled by photographic chemicals, it spat out a silver gelatin stream of images to the eagerly waiting sitter and provided almost instantaneous results.

The Surrealists used and were obsessed by automatism, the act of letting thoughts flow freely without rationally thinking about them like free writing – the Photomaton (arguably) took control of the self, creating its own automatism. The automatic properties of the machine excited André Breton and immediately he related the unbiased and uncontrollable functions to those of the mind. Breton, said to be one of the first advocates of the booth, enthusiastically rounded up the Surrealists including Max Ernst, Luis Buñuel, René Magritte, Paul Éluard and Yves Tanguy (depicted in this photo strip) and put them one by one at its impartial mercy. The idea was that the impression produced would be an uncontrived imprint, a reflection of their psychological state or what they perceived as the ‘true-self’. Since the invention of the Photomaton, generations of artists have been fascinated by the ‘Photo-Booth’ concept and the human placed in its own very particular environment.

Paris-born Surrealist Yves Tanguy is one of the masters of the genre and much like his contemporary Salvador Dalí was a spirited individualist. Tanguy’s father passed suddenly when he was only eight. Later his mother would decide to leave Paris after the death of Tanguy’s brother during WWI. Tanguy remained in Paris, finished school and developed a close friendship with Henri Matisse’s son Pierre. That relationship would help lay the groundwork for Tanguy’s future as one of the most influential members during the early days of the Surrealist movement, something that wasn’t really on the young soon-to-be artist’s radar at the time.


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