Portrait of America

| February 3, 2011
Peter Tower

Peter Tower.

Step inside a photo booth, and something palpable – almost magical – occurs.

Normally reserved businessmen and women morph back into the people they once were before paychecks and power became so important.

Overworked mothers sheepishly let themselves get talked into slipping inside the curtain and taking 30 seconds to let the camera focus their way, giggling – sometimes marveling – at the outcome.

Older individuals recall childhood moments spent fishing for coins from nearby fountains trying to cull together just enough,  to pay for a stint in a nearby photo booth.

Gal pals pack into the small space, grabbing props and trading places as they wait for the camera’s countdown.

Old college buddies slap each other on the back, chuckling as they reminisce and try on silly faces.

Lovers get silly and sassy as they sit side by side, posing again (flash) and again (flash) and again (flash).

Willy Owens

Willy Owens.

The varied responses lend credibility to the old adage, “A picture is worth a 1,000 words,” though Peter Tower believes a picture holds so much more. The Magnolia Photo Booth Co. owner and his staff plan to prove just that when they take one of their photo machines on a cross-country trip in late spring or early summer.

“It’s not just a road trip, but it’s really to try to capture the most diverse portraits that we can,” Tower said. “We hope to show how different we all our as Americans, how different the cities are. It’s definitely a story worth sharing.”

The journey was inspired by a description in “The Americans,” a book of photos by Robert Frank: “Armed with a camera and a fresh cache of film and bankrolled by a Guggenheim Foundation grant, Robert Frank crisscrossed the United States during 1955 and 1956. The photographs he brought back form a portrait of the country at the time and hint at its future.”

But instead of being “bankrolled” by the Guggenheim Foundation, Tower and his colleagues are being financially supported by regular people from all over the country via www.Kickstarter.com. The website connects creative innovators with individuals who want to pledge money in any denomination to further the proposed projects.

Peter, Victor, Stephanie Brothers and Amanda Garvey

Peter Tower, Victor Hicks, Stephanie Brothers and Amanda Garvey

As of the publication date of this article, 219 people have pledged a total of $32,645 to back “A Portrait of America Through the Eyes of a Photo Booth.” The financial support will fund the trip, which includes custom-fitting a recently purchased 1982 Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia that will run on biodiesel and house the photo booth inside.

Victor Hicks, market manager and official “desk jockey” at the company’s Louisville location, looks forward to participating in the traveling art project. “I am really excited. I am thrilled to be able to be a part of something that will document people all across the U.S.,” Hicks said. “I enjoy the surprise of people experiencing the photo booth. “¦ I’ve worked hundreds of events and whether people are seeing the photo booth for the first time or the 30th, you can really have a great moment. There’s sort of a creative energy.”

AlexHicks and his peers will capture that spirit via the photos and in online updates. There will eventually be a “fancy photography book” with lots of pictures and tales in it, said Tower. Several large galleries in New York City have already expressed interest in hosting shows after the trip is over. And the group is in negotiations with a documentary crew that wants to chronicle the six- to eight-week trip,,  which also could venture outside of the United States.

“It’s a long shot,” said Tower, “but there’s a possibility of us going to Iraq. If it happens, that’s amazing. We want to help (service men and women) tell their families that their safe and actually happy, even if it’s momentarily inside the photo booth.”

Thus far, Tower and his team are awaiting the right person to help make the proposed voyage to the war-torn country come to fruition. (For the record, they’ll take any help they can get and asked The Voice-Tribune to share that with our readers in case someone is interested.)

Willy Owens works in the Magnolia Booth Co.’s San Francisco location, though “my business card says “˜Road Warrior,’ ” he laughed.

Owens came up with the initial concept for the trip and is still awed by the support so many people have offered. “We don’t have to worry about making it or running out of money. It’s set up so that we can survive on the road and meet thousands of people and share the photo booth. To actually go out and crisscross the country for six to eight weeks is incredible. Without being in a band, I don’t know who else would do this.”

Countless people have cruised the contiguous states armed with a camera but not in the way Owens, Hicks and Tower plan to do, and they’re confident the trip will yield intriguing – magical, even – results surely worth more than a 1,000 words.

“You can really tell a lot about a person by what they do in the photo booth,” Owens said. “It’s really just a great way to capture that moment, to capture history, really.”

BeerPhoto Philanthropy

To learn more about how you can support “A Portrait of America Through the Eyes of a Photo Booth,” go to www.kickstarter.com and search for “Magnolia Photo Booth.”

Magnolia Photo Booth

  • 714 E. Market St. in Louisville; (502) 930-0043.
  • 1306 12th Ave. in San Francisco; (415) 608-6572.


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Category: Cover Stories

About the Author (Author Profile)

Angie Fenton
Angie Fenton is Managing Editor of The Voice-Tribune, a Blue Equity company. She is also an entertainment correspondent for WHAS11′s new morning show, “Great Day Live!”, which debuted August 22 on Louisville’s ABC affiliate. Additionally, Angie is an entertainment correspondent for the Saturday Morning Show with Ron ‘n’ Mel Fisher on 84WHAS (840 AM) and has served in the same capacity for Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks; Breeders’ Cup; and Circuit of the Americas during the Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix in November 2012. Angie also serves as an emcee, host, voiceover professional and on-camera commercial talent.

Angie has a bachelor’s and master’s in English from Central Michigan University and began her career as an adjunct professor at her alma mater. She is the youngest of five — four of whom were adopted, including Angie, and none of whom are biologically related. She is also a Michigan native who moved to Kentucky in June 2002. Angie is owned by two dogs — Herbie and Yoda — and feels lucky to have loved and been loved by many more, including Pooch, Jessie, Onyx, Jack and Big Bud, who took his last breath on Christmas Day 2012.

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