Why Did Photobooth Close?

Apr 23 at 12pm

I was surprised to hear that Photobooth closed its doors at the end of March. I was even more surprised when I brought it up with friends and realized that a lot of people had no idea of its closure. For the uninitiated, Photobooth was a well-loved tintype portrait studio, classic camera shop, and gallery space on Valencia Street. The charming artsy space was originally opened in August of 2011 by Michael Shindler and Vince Donovan.

I contacted both the owners to ask them about why they decided to close. Although some suspected that they had been priced out of their space and were evicted, Shindler explained that isn't Photobooth's story. Shindler and Donovan chose not to renew their lease when it was up at the end of March mainly because they believe all good things must come to an end.

Donovan explained that running Photobooth left the two artistic founders with little time for their own photographic work. And, Shindler added, that paying for retail space made him very aware that he needed to shoot X people at Y dollars to pay for the space. One of the things that makes tintype portraits so interesting and challenging is that they require patient deliberation to get the perfect shot. (Photobooth would just take one picture per session.) Shindler wasn't thrilled about taking people's photos if he couldn't give it the attention he wanted.

Both founders told me they were extremely grateful for the last three years and the way the community embraced their creative hub, but the studio's run came to a natural end. Donovan said he is going to miss working with local artists he featured in Photobooth's gallery and the monthly instant camera photo walks the shop had become known for. Glass Key Photo in the Lower Haight will be taking over the photo walks and Donovan still plans on attending them.

Donovan plans to continue his long-time portrait series working with communities of faith in San Francisco. He's currently photographing all the members of St. Paulus Lutheran on Polk Street. His portraits of the congregation will be on display at the church from June 21 to July 20. Opening night is Saturday, June 21st at 7 p.m.

Shindler will continue shooting tintype portraits and getting his own studio space. He is planning on shooting mainly corporate and private events. Shindler explained that he can get away from the rushed fee for service transactions at these types of gatherings and provide a more thoughtful and special experience for people. "The pictures are better," Shindler told me.

If you're not throwing a large event, but would still like to have your tintype portrait taken, another one of Photobooth's tintype photographers, Kari Orvik is going to start her own tintype studio in SF. And as for their old space, their Valencia neighbors, The Scarlet Sage Herb Co. are moving in.

Photos by Michael Schindler

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