Photobooth SF is a go-to photographic boutique in San Francisco's Mission District. Specializing in tintype and Polaroid portraits, owners Vince Donovan and Michael Shindler spread the gospel of analog with their sleek space and array of photographic knowledge with all who enter.
Whether they’re hosting fashion mixers, Diana workshops, or simply having you sit very still for a shiny metal headshot, Photobooth is a neighborhood gem. We caught up with Vince to ask him a series of questions, and in true form, his answers are unexpected surprises and colorful stories that reflect Photobooth itself.
San Francisco is definitely an analog city – why do you think so?
Chewing gum. Seriously, everywhere you go people are chewing gum, or there is gum on the sidewalk, or under the bar, or whatever. Is there anything more variable, more purely analog, than chewing gum?
What do you think makes your neighborhood (Mission District) different than any other San Francisco destinations?
It’s spelled differently. Pacific Heights is spelled something like P-A-C-I-F-I-C H-E-I-G-H-T-S. The Excelsior is also spelled weird. The Mission is the only neighborhood spelled the way it is.
Explain how Photobooth came about?
Okay, seriously, this is what happened: Michael and I were drinking at the Hotel Utah, then we went to the Latin American Club and drank there. The whole time we were telling each other how smart we were and drawing on this napkin. I woke up three days later to find I had signed a lease on a shop on Valencia Street. I still have the napkin.
What makes tintypes so special?
Because we care about each and every one we make.
If you could be a Lomography camera, which would you be and why?
It could be the Lubitel because I have a special place in my photographic heart for TLRs. My very first camera was a Yashicamat 124! But I think the Lomography camera I really identify with personally is the Horizon. It needs a little room to move, but produces spectacular results.
What’s your favorite film to shoot on… and why?
I can’t think of a clever answer to this one. I love Tri-X. I will always love Tri-X. I will give up Tri-X when they pry it from my cold dead hands.
“I never leave home without…”
Tiffany Bukowski’s phone number.
What’s the strangest request anyone has had for a portrait?
A woman came in who wanted not a portrait of herself but of her best friend, her bicycle. It was a Surly Crossfire, if I recall, and a lovely bike it was. She was cuter though. A guy came in with a cat, a dog, and a parrot and wanted a tintype of all of them together, including himself. Michael shot it, but it took forever and cost the dude a bundle. Then there were the chickens, but I’d rather not talk about the chickens…
Favorite place to shoot in the City?
Right here at Photobooth is pretty excellent, since our customers are lovely in every way. But I like shooting portraits anywhere there are people: bars, churches, parties.
You’ve thrown a lot of parties in the store – best piece of advice?
Keep a towel handy for that naked guy in the office. Other than that, just relax, have a good time, and let it happen.
Favorite cocktail (homemade and/or from your neighborhood)?
Early in the day we favor a combo we call “The Tinman”, which is PBR with a Bulleit Rye chaser. Later on we’ll shake up some Sazuracs, though if there are customers in the shop and we’re busy we might just drink rye shots.
Favorite Golden Rule of Lomography?
I like ‘em all, pretty much. Rule #6, "Don’t think", is a good one for me as I rarely do. Rule #5 about getting close is just a good life rule in general, same with Rule #10 about don’t worry about rules. If I was going to add a Rule #11 it would be: Shoot YOUR picture, not anyone else’s.
1193 Valencia Street @ 23rd
San Francisco, CA 94110
Thurs – Sat 2-8pm