100 Cities

New York City | Photo Booth

In Thursday’s post I spoke of taking pictures in Photobooths. I suppose they were our earliest self-portraits, where you got four poses on a strip for a quarter. If we were in the mood to get our picture taken, Robert Mapplethorpe and I would walk from the Chelsea Hotel to Times Square, split a grilled cheese on rye and chocolate coke at Child’s, then go to the Playland Arcade a few doors up and hit the Photobooth. We’d sit close, close the curtain, press the button and wait two minutes for the strip to slide down. Robert used to say the suspense was like waiting for the prize to turn up in a crackerjack box. We’d both grab for them as they dropped, slightly sepia or black and white, occasionally over-exposed, but always great, even for a laugh. I don’t know what became of them all. Robert would use them as components in a drawing or collage. Occasionally I find one pressed like a flower between the leaves of an old notebook.

Each precious picture spirals me back to being twenty-two in old New York City, walking with Robert through gritty, energetic Times Square. It has much changed architecturally and most likely contains very little you can get for twenty-five cents. Back then a quarter could buy you a subway token or a pack of cigarettes, a bottomless cup of coffee or a slice of pizza, and most miraculously a strip of four images, secret self-portraits or those providing just plain fun with the one you loved.