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An Ode to Photo Booths, the Korean Trend Preserving Our Memories in Time

How can photo booths be a new trend if they’ve been around forever?

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, photo booths have been popping up everywhere in South Korea, sometimes right next door to one another. The trend has expanded into malls, busy streets and suburbs in Vietnam as well. But why now? Photo booths that take and print somewhat instantaneous portraits are nothing new. The first public model opened in New York City nearly 100 years ago, and the unmistakable bookmark-thin line of photos has been featured on album covers and movie posters for decades.

Photo booths fell out of favor gradually. Film cameras became cheaper, followed by digital cameras and, finally, in our modern age, everyone has a rather stunning camera attached to the smartphone in their pocket. Plus, we can store and share photos online via a variety of screens. Long gone are the days where the only picture you might have of someone was taken in a photo booth.

Like most fashion trends, young people are driving the popularity of photo booths. Youths today grew up never needing to print photos, so the tactical nature of photo booths presents a neat novelty — a remarkably tangible artifact in a virtual world. The booths notably accommodate groups of friends, another important interaction when communications are increasingly remote. Throw in some slick cross-marketing by trendy celebrities and goofy costume accessories, and the appeal is obvious. 

Most trends emerge because a new technology or innovation emerges that changes the world. But sometimes, the world changes, which means it's going back to the inventions of the past provides a comforting novelty. 

But rather than ending this Vignette on a mawkish dissection of why something is cool, I’d like to offer a suggestion. Having just gone through another round of official photo-taking for government documents, I’d like to propose we can use our Korean photo booth images on identity cards; it’s more fun and I look better in a plush frog hat than I do a photoshopped suit, anyways. 

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