Fun And Freedom In The Photo Booth

Hilhaven Lodge: The Photo Booth Pictures PowerHouse Books Brett Ratner (Photographer), Robert Evans (Introduction)
PowerHouse Books
It happened in a flash.

Those cheesy, old photo booths from everybody's past, you know, the ones from strip malls and bus stations? Those old things are making a comeback. Suddenly they're trendy, they're hot, CBS News' Bill Whitaker reports.

"Probably because they're so old school, it's all of a sudden cool," says one young woman at a hip, L.A. bar. "I'm actually thinking of getting one of these in my house. Why not, right?"

Why not indeed? They're popping up everywhere else from L.A. hot spots so cool they don't need a name outside, to dark New York bars to Hollywood's new retro bowling alley.

"It's very hip," says Shelly Shulz, manager of Lucky Strike Lanes. "Paris Hilton's in there with her sister and that kind of crowd."

These days, the photo booths are about as ubiquitous as the celebrity heiress herself.

"She's in here all the time with her friends and her sister taking pictures," Shulz says of Hilton.

It's no mystery why Ms. Hilton wants to take her picture, but what's up with everybody else?

"It's really fun too, you know, especially when it's in a bar. You can get like all crazy and nuts," explains one man.

Just guess where this hot trend caught fire? Hollywood, of course. And this is the man many credit with lighting the match.

"It's an amazing invention," Brett Ratner says.

Brett Ratner is the director of the blockbuster "Rush Hour" movies and an all-around fun guy.

"When I bought this house, there was nothing in it and so I bought a bed, a refrigerator and a photo booth.

So in 2000, with his new house and photo booth, he started throwing parties for his Hollywood pals.

"The whole night they were in line for this photo booth. So at the end of the summer, I had hundreds and hundreds of pictures of my friends in funny poses," Ratner explains.

So many, in fact, he decided to make a book out of them: "Hilhaven Lodge," named after his Beverly Hills mansion. Candid, whacky, funny faces of famous friends: Ashton Kutcher , Brooke Shields, Danny Devito, model Heidi Klum, just to name a few.

"Heidi Klum, you know, did, you know, this part of her body and then this part of her body," Ratner says. "I was just blown away. The other person, Jude Law, he did something, which I couldn't figure out. He came in sideways. It's like someone's holding his legs and it really has been the center of the universe for this house. People just come over and spend hours. I mean, I have more pictures of Paris Hilton than anybody in history because she, ha ha, loves, you know, having her picture taken, as you know.

"Really," a puzzled Whitaker asks?

And it spread from here. Director Quentin Tarantino bought a booth. Designer Tommy Hilfiger was inspired.

"In one of my famous parties, Tommy Hilfiger was there and he was like, "Wow!" And he called me up or had someone call me up the next day and say, 'Can we do a commercial based on the party I was at last night,'" Ratner recalls.

Now, these black and white picture strips are showing up everywhere. MTV put out a book of them. They're in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. They were even the backstage buzz at this year's Golden Globe awards where the winners posed with Pat O'brien of "The Insider" television show.

"Pat probably stole that idea from me," Ratner says. "I don't know if he was ever here, but i'm sure he's very familiar with my booth. So, Pat owes me some money."

"It's all good news to Photo Me, which supplies the booths. Western regional manager Sonny Pham says demand has grown astronomically over the last three years.

"We also do once and sometimes twice a year for Hugh Heffner," Pham says. "We are on the Playboy mansion and the, you know, the technician who mans the booth there is always, you know excited to do that event," Pham quips.

Vintage photo collector Babbette Hines is taken aback by the photo booth's newfound popularity.

"I think I am surprised at how hip it's suddenly become," Hines says.

Hines fell in love with really old photo booth pictures from the 1920s, when the photo booth was first invented, through the depression and war years. Three years ago, she put her favorites in a book, entitled "Photobooth."

Asked if there is there any difference between the photos of this era and the ones today, Hines replies that, "I think the only difference is they're much more studied in the 20s and 30s and it wasn't until I think the late 30s, early 40s when people started to kind of yuck it up."

But one thing remains constant, she says.

"There's a curtain and you're alone in a little space by yourself and so you can be whoever you want to be in that space. You can be a little sexy, you can be goofy. You can be formal. You can be very serious, like you are defining yourself in the very moment of who you want to be and I think that really translates," Hines says.

As he enters a photo booth, Ratner says, "See this? All of a sudden you go in this little box and you and the camera are alone and no one is seeing you except the camera.

"It's very spontaneous and because of the lighting -- there's a front flash -- everybody looks good."

"Well, maybe not," Whitakers says as he peruses a snapshot of himself. "But they sure put a smile on Brett Ratner's face."

"Your idea is taking over the world," Whitakers tells Ratner.
"Yeah, exactly. Best buy I've ever made," Ratner says. "Nothing else could have afforded me the meaningful moments and more instant gratification than that simple, beaten up, magical booth."