Old Timey 1997 Photo Booth

Digital Photography: Agents Berrebbi, et al
DV Cam: Agent Todd
Featuring: Appel, Berrebbi, Todd, Lodwick, Winckler, Jesster, Mercer, Walker
Props Donated By Agents: Ries, Mason, Elaniemae, DSilver, Schulman, Sang-urai, Mercer, Crum, Shelktone, Turner, Pittman, Ryan, Tabacco

I was asked by the HOWL Festival (an annual event celebrating East Village artists) to perform a mission. I got them to agree to give me an official booth at the street fair portion of the festival, and figured I could come up with something fun to do. I had the idea to somehow parody the “Old Timey Wild West Photo Booth” institution that is so common in amusement parks, festivals, and boardwalks. They’re all pretty standardized: you dress up like a “cowboy” or a “woman with a big dress”, hold up a liquor bottle or a shotgun, and get your photo taken in sepia tone. You never see a photo booth for any other time period. Agent Appel suggested we try 1997, and the Old Timey 1997 Photo Booth was born.

The first step was to find as many 1997 items as possible. We wanted to be as specific as possible. This was not a “90’s” booth. No grunge. No flannel. We had to find things that were uniquely 1997. I sent out a detailed request for 1997 items to all New York IE agents. Within minutes, agents began answering the call. Agent Ries had a “Yo Quiero Taco Bell” doll. Agent Mason could offer a Seinfeld shirt. Agent Schulman had a Friends poster. I spent a week or two gathering all of the props and costumes together, and purchasing a few key items.

Agent Appel picked me up at 9 AM and we stopped by the UCB Theatre office to borrow one of their black partition walls for our backdrop. We then picked up Agent Berrebbi who brought along his 8 year-old VCR. We arrived at HOWL and found our booth on Avenue A at 7th Street. The “booth” that was set up for us wasn’t much to look at. It was just a folding table and a sign. The HOWL folks had informed us that we had to use the sign provided to us. A local artist was making all of the festival signs. I’m not exactly sure what the “art design” concept was for the one made for us… but everything was spelled correctly, so we couldn’t complain too much.

We began setting up and decorating the booth. Being a music nerd in high school, I have every issue of SPIN magazine from 1991 to 2000 saved and stored in chronological order. I grabbed a few of the funnier 1997 covers (Fiona Apple, Prodigy, U2 in discotheque outfits) and we cut out photos to add to the backdrop which already included a huge Friends and Titanic poster.

We also found some funny ads in the issues of SPIN, including a classic “Got Milk?” shot of Dennis Rodman. Anchoring the booth was a giant “Rollerblade” sign, donated by Agent DSilver. We propped up VHS tapes from ’97 on top of it: Austin Powers, The Full Monty, Titanic, Swingers, and Star Trek: First Contact. I had ordered two 5’10” cardboard cutouts for the booth– Austin Powers and Bilvis (Bill Clinton dressed as Elvis).

The completed booth
The booth included several subtle touches:

X-Files action figures

Answering machine (with microcassette!), Taco Bell doll

Friends triva game, VCR

Caller ID box
We also placed costumes and props on our table for folks to use during their photos:

“Maxell” (blank tapes!), “Class of ’97”, “Central Perk”, “How U Doin’?”

U2’s Pop Mart Tour shirt, WCW Wrestler Sting

TI-82 calculator, real 1997 cell phone, Novelty 1997 cell phone / water bottle, Nintendo 64 controllers
To better promote the booth, Agent Appel made up a huge sign, which Agent Lodwick spent most of the day holding.

Agent Lodwick
The plan was to take this venture very seriously. If anyone asked us why we were doing this, we would very earnestly explain that we were just a bunch of guys with an idea that we were working really hard to sell to street fairs and boardwalks across the country. The booth will be free of charge today, so we can build up a portfolio to sell this groundbreaking concept to others.

Agents Appel and Berrebbi begin barking for customers
Once we opened, we had a nice steady stream of patrons. This being the East Village, we were visited by a delightful variety of eccentric individuals. Most folks didn’t quite understand why anyone would make a photo booth for 1997 but were excited to play along. We took photos with a digital camera and then gave out a blog address on a note card where customers could view their photos the next day (which we really did follow through on).

Our first visitor

Australian woman holds GameBoy and screams “1997!”

This guy was great. His daughter put on a Hanson shirt

This man told us 1997 was awesome because he got arrested a few times!

Agent Winckler shows off our T-Shirt options

This man was 72 in 1997!

This baby loved the Taco Bell Dog!

We made this guy cover his HOWL ’05 wristband, a historical anachronism

Agent Jesster mans the booth
The guy in the above photo was my favorite of the day. His daughter at first refused to participate. He gave her a really awesome pep talk: “Life is too short to not take a moment and try fun things like this. We’re doing it.” She put on a Hanson shirt and a smile.

Several ladies wanted to cop a feel off of the ex-prez

This guy was the only person all day to put the Pop Mart shirt on. Like U2 themselves, people seem to want to forget that era.

Agent Tabacco provided us with the Teletubby. It talked!

Clinton’s junk gets tested again
After a few hours it started to rain, so we packed things up and headed home, taking the memories of 1997 with us.


Agent Mercer

Not long after I reported for Old(e) Timey 1997 Photo Booth duty, my job manning the booth was terminated- by the rain. Regardless, my brief stint was still a blast and some interesting stuff happened. A woman and her black Labrador had their photo taken, and the dog had an uncanny sense of how to model with the giant 1997 cell phone. No matter where the woman placed the phone prop, the dog held his ear up to it with a big slobbering grin on his face, as if he were really conversing with someone (in 1997)!

There was also a guy who balanced the giant phone on his nose by its antenna… for a really impressive amount of time. He also did a whole lot of crazy stuff with his eyes and tongue… like facial vaudeville.

My favorite moment was when a little girl, who had to be somewhere between five and seven years old, asked to have her picture taken and she picked the movie Swingers as her 1997 prop and stood smiling hugely… one hand/arm cradling Swingers, the other hand giving a thumbs-up.

I can’t believe that among everything she could’ve chosen, including the Taco Bell dog and the purple Teletubby, she chose Swingers. Now THAT picture should’ve been part of the Swingers ad campaign… hilarious…. never mind V Vaughn with the martini glass.

Agent Berrebbi

The most enjoyable part was of the day for me was barking for the booth, trying to attract people to take photos. Agent Lodwick and I did this for a good part of the day. “We’ve all read about 1997, but what was it really like? – Come find out” and “Relive Old Time Historical 1997”. Many people responded “I already lived 1997”, to which I replied “Here’s your chance to get it right this time!”, which evoked a laugh, but did not convince them to come over. The most effective slogan was also the simplest: “Get your picture taken free!” When someone gained interest Agent Todd or I would then encourage them to put on some “genuine 1997 apparel and accoutrements” we had laid out on the table. People were more than happy to put on the Class of 1997 or Hanson T-shirt. Most people were attracted to the Zach Morris oversized cell phone but were disappointed when they realized it was really a water bottle that just looked like a phone. I would point out that the items were replicas because the actual 1997 items were far too valuable and were in museums.

At that point they were ushered to the booth to pose. I took the photos for a large part of the afternoon. Once surrounded by the memorabilia of the 97 booth people generally did one of two things – either they (a) they started talking to anyone who was listening about every minute detail, personal or historical, they remembered about 1997 or (b) told whoever was around that they remember nothing about 1997 cause they spent that year high.

At that point I would say “I’m gonna count to three, and then I want you to yell Seinfeld!” I’d count, we’d both yell, snap! Flashback, 1997 photo!

A couple memorable customers:

Parents – At least two separate sets of parents dragged their crying toddlers into the photo booth. One was a man with a little girl, who cried and moaned while he tied to get her into the Hanson shirt. The other was a Russian woman who stood looking at the photo booth for ten minutes, then unstrapped her sleeping infant from its stroller, woke it up, and changed it out of one outfit and into another to take a photo.

Karate Guy – Karate Guy had come from doing some kung fu demonstration with other Karate Guys. He walked right to the center of the booth without any prompting and stuck what I imagine is the pose he strikes for all photographs and gave a mad dog stare at the camera. Agent Todd offered him a magazine or a cell phone but he kind of grunted and waived his hand without looking at Agent Todd. He did not smile, nor yell out Seinfeld when I asked him to. As soon as I took his picture he walked off without asking how he can get a copy of it.

In the end a lot of people seemed really happy at the idea and totally bought it. While many acknowledged they thought it was a silly year to choose at first, after they looked at the booth, put on the t-shirt, and used the giant cell phone a lot said they realized the world really did change since then and they did have fond memories for that time gone by.

Agent Appel

The day started with Agent Todd, Agent Berrebbi and I squeezing into my Scion XB like a clown car. We had a ton of great 1997 memorabilia and a large backdrop to cart down to the HOWL Festival.

When we arrived, we parked my car and started setting up. It was great at first, because we were using my car with the back opened up and playing very loud 1997 music, which would have really enhanced the experience. Aside from Jewel, Hootie and Hanson, there are actually a lot of great albums that came out that year (Whatever and Ever Amen, OK Computer, Homework, etc…) Unfortunately, the guy who managed the festival (riding around all day on a Segway scooter) told us we weren’t allowed to have a car on site and made me move it. On top of that, he wouldn’t even let me ride his Segway around.

Soon after we set up, Agent Lodwick and Agent Winkler showed up to help out. I made a large cardboard sign that said, “FREE HISTORICAL PHOTO BOOTH” and we started shouting to the crowds passing by, trying to get them to relive the magic of eight years ago.


Me: “Imagine what it would have been like if you actually lived in 1997!”

Person: “I did live in 1997”

Me: “Hehe…good one.”

The response was usually just a laugh and a glance, but I was surprised at how many people were actually really excited to get their photo taken AND to give a testimonial for our video. I have to say most of the photos were either people who were teenagers in 1997 or non-Americans, fascinated with our pop-culture.

My favorite was a guy who told us he was a high-school junior in 97 and all he used to do was go to football practice and smoke cocaine. A bit later when he noticed I was video taping him, he told us he wasn’t being serious about the cocaine smoking.

Eventually, the rain got the best of us and we packed up, but it was a great experience and we got a ton of really good photos. 1997 ROCKS!

Agent Jester

I arrived a little before 2, after most of the other agents had been there for some time. I noticed the location of the booth was pretty far away from the rest of the Howl Festival, which meant less traffic, but that just meant more attention for the people that passed by. I quickly got into the routine of pitching our promotion to every passerby.

We got a lot of laughs just based on our premise – everyone who took the time to look at the setup always smiled. Some even took the idea very seriously – and wished us the best in getting the photo booth into other festivals and events. No one ever touched my contribution to the historical items people could pose with – my 1997 Senor Prom “Never Say Goodbye” beer mug (don’t ask me why they gave out beer mugs at my senor prom) – I guess it didn’t carry the same sentimental memories the giant cell phone did.

Anyone with kids always stopped at our booth – which was great because for some kids 1997 must actually seem like forever ago, a time they literally could not remember in some cases. A woman with the most photogenic dog on the planet also stopped by. It literally knew how to behave when it had its picture taken -it looked up at the camera, kept its tongue in its mouth, and even gave a little doggy wink.

After about an hour of helping out, the rain came and washed away our business for the day. However, if those suits think bad positioning and a little rain are going to keep us from reaching our goal – an old timey photo booth featuring classic years like 1997, 1994, and one day who knows, 2003 – then they are sorely mistaken.

Mission Accomplished.