November 20th, 2006

Tom Lehrer is Smug

The Fotomat

Kodak Fotomat, 1960's, originally uploaded by Roadsidepictures.
Can you believe this was the only picture of a "real live" Fotomat booth I could find online?

" I can see it all now, this is gonna be just like last summer. You fell in love with that girl at the Fotomat,
you bought forty dollars worth of fuckin' film, and you never even talked to her. You don't even own a camera."
- Mike Damone, Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

I believe it is only a matter of time before every piece of American culture that ends in "-mat" will disappear from the public consciousness: The Automat is gone, and so is the Fotomat. Laundromats still have a long way to go, however, unless they invent some kind of magic Febreze that actually cleans your clothes rather than play Bachelor Pretend.

The Fotomat, first opened in 1965, combined two American loves: amateur photography and the drive-thru. What could be easier? Simply pull up to that distinctive Fotomat booth and drop your film off. The film would then travel to a central processing facility and the prints sent back to the Fotomat for you to pick up at your leisure. How long would a process like this take, you may ask? Well, check the ad banner in the photo above: They're offering One Day Photo Finishing. Drop it off today, get it back tomorrow. Now that's American progress at work for you!

These darned little kiosks were everywhere, but the only one I really remember was the one at the Caldor/Big Y Plaza in Northampton, roughly where the CVS used to be (I think it's now a mattress store or something.) Most of these kiosks are long-gone, but some have gone on to live new and productive lives as drive-up espresso joints or somesuch. Fotomat lives on, however, in the form of online photo software. Just no more drive-up yellow huts.

I'd always thought it must've been a terribly lonely job to be a Fotomat clerk, but apparently some folks loved the solitude. Probably brought along a bunch of good books, too. I bet in the summer them things got hot though.