Thousands of Montrealers walk past it on their daily commute without even glancing at it. You probably don’t know it’s the last of its kind in the province.
However, there was a time when there was a photo booth at almost every station in the Montreal subway system. They were first installed for Expo 67 shortly after the metro first opened to the public.
Now there is only one analog photo booth in Quebec – it’s located at the Place-des-Arts subway station in Montreal – and only six more across Canada. The other soon-to-be-defunct analog cabins are in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland.
“If you want to use it, use it now. Your days are numbered, ”said Jeff Grostern, President of Auto Photo.
His grandfather founded the company, which owns and operates Canada’s last analog photo booth in addition to its 180 digital booths.
It’s easy to forget, but there was a time when photo booth service was not only a novelty, but a necessity.
For decades, the stands served a practical purpose: fast, cheap, high-quality ID photos.
“If you needed an instant photo, this was the way – the only way,” says Grostern.
The booth’s operations technician, Mike, took a test strip from himself to make sure the colors and exposure were just right and taped it into the booth (just like in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001 film Amélie). (Marilla Steuter-Martin / CBC)
Grostern opens the heavy padlock in the cab of the Place-des-Arts subway station to clear up the mystery and magic, and reveal the buzzing machines and liquid chemicals that once revolutionized the world of photography.
The technology in the cabins is simple and straightforward and, other than a few tweaks over the years, has not changed significantly since the cabs were mass-produced in the 1940s.
After you put the coins in the machine, the camera will be activated. A roll of photosensitive paper is drawn into the camera box. After four flashes, the paper is drawn into chemistry tanks to develop the images you have posed for. Finally, the strip is delivered via the small metal slide, which is still damp from the developing chemicals.
Chemical booths can be very maintenance-intensive, especially when compared to digital ones: a technician has to come over weekly to refill the chemicals and make sure everything is running smoothly.