Paper Nostalgia: These Are the Network’s Viral Photo Booths That Are Succeeding in South Korea | technology

Socks with the faces of BTS singers, handmade fans and masks from the series Squid game. These are some of the products that can be bought in the alleyways of Insadong, a colorful neighborhood in central Seoul where traditional shops mix with the newest. In one such place, some girls laugh when they try on glasses and headbands with tiny ears. They pose for photos in one of the unstaffed photo booths that are popular with young people in South Korea and trending on networks like Instagram and TikTok.

Life4Cuts is one of the most popular photobooth brands. It has 315 stores in South Korea and has about 10,000 photo booths. The company estimates that 22 million people visit its stores each year. There are over 1.1 million posts on Instagram with the hashtag Life4Cuts in Korean, and there are even accounts dedicated to teaching poses for photos. On TikTok, videos of how these photo booths work gather thousands of views. The company has started to expand to other countries such as the United States, the United States, Japan or the United Kingdom.

In Insadong’s photo booth, there is also Jimin, a 30-year-old girl who is visiting the Korean capital to see exhibitions. She looks in the mirror and smooths her hair with her hands as she eagerly awaits a friend. “When I come to see my friends in Seoul, we like to take the opportunity to take pictures so we can remember the moment later,” he explains.

Behind her, a wall hung with dozens of pictures. While some people are standing alone, up to 10 young people are seen in some of the photos. They wear all kinds of accessories: from sunglasses to Minnie Mouse bows, flower crowns, wigs, police hats, headbands with birthday cakes, stuffed animals or giant dinosaurs and animal hats. All these extras are displayed on the property and can be used free of charge.

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Elena chooses a headband before entering the booth.
Elena chooses a headband before entering the booth.Elizabeth Rubio

This place has three booths separated by a curtain to take pictures inside. It has a pink machine that allows you to choose how the pictures will be. What Jimin likes most is that he can customize the frame. In addition to the color, you can choose whether you want Disney characters to appear on it — like Lilo & Stitch, Dumbo, or Beauty and the Beast — or other graphics or animations designed for special occasions like birthdays, Christmas, or New Year’s.

The next step is to choose how many photos will appear in the frame: one, two, three, four, six or eight photos. The most common, according to Jimin, is to take four photos. After paying 5,000 Korean won – about 3.6 euros -, you need to sit on a bench indicated by two powerful lights. In the foreground, the camera snaps every 10 seconds. The young people stand up and can see at all times what they would look like in the image on the screen in front of them.

Then two copies of the photos are printed. “So every friend can take one,” explains Elena, a 27-year-old Korean translator who visits these photo booths once every two weeks. Immediately after that, she proudly displays on her mobile phone several photos that she took of herself with her partner. Pictures can be downloaded, as well as printed, in digital format by scanning a QR code. Elena explains that some people leave a printout hanging in the building or keep it in a photo album at home.

Elena is standing in a photo booth.
Elena is standing in a photo booth.Elizabeth Rubio

Like hundreds of users, Jimin often shares photos he takes on Instagram, with hashtags like #happybirthday. But there are also those who simply want to have a physical memory. Such is the case of Jinyoung, a young woman living in Seoul who visits photo booths twice a month to take pictures alone or with her friends. In this case, her companions are her cousins, twenty-two year olds visiting Seoul. “What we like most about taking pictures is that we get together. This is the most valuable thing,” Jinyoung said, smiling and shyly covering his mouth with his hand.

Pictures she took with her cousins ​​indicate that they have photography experience. In some, they wear hats and other bizarre accessories — like a beanie that turns their face into a beer mug. They walk around, smiling, resting their hands on their chins, and making hearts with their fingers. You can also learn to pose and Life4Cuts recommends on their website poses for taking pictures alone, with a partner, or with friends.

“Group by height. Group recommended,” he suggests in a video. There are a lot of poses in which the heroes of the pictures form hearts with their arms or hands. In some, they form the joining of the tips of the thumb and forefinger. His intent to make this gesture, Which promoted some K-Pop starsis to re-shape the heart. Some BTS artists often make this gesturethat has already crossed the border. Indeed, when they visited the President of the United States, Joe Biden, at the White House in 2022, They took pictures with him making this heart with his fingers.

Photo booths that print photos into the digital age

    Pictures that many young people have pasted on the wall of the photo booth.
Pictures that many young people have pasted on the wall of the photo booth.Elizabeth Rubio

It is enough to stroll through the streets of different neighborhoods in Seoul to find these kinds of photo booths. Most of them don’t have staff and there are some more sophisticated ones who even have hair straighteners for young people to style their hair before taking pictures. In the midst of the digital age, what is the secret to the success of these photo print spots in South Korea?

In Korea, images have always been in style, explains Sammy Lee, a 35-year-old interpreter who was born in Barcelona and has lived in Seoul for nearly a decade. Koreans love selfies. If you go to tourist spots, you will see that they always have photo-taking areas,” he says. In the areas around Namsan Tower, better known as N Seoul Tower, thousands of colorful locks with messages in Korean occupy the gates and gardens. Next to it, there is a pink booth to enter. Many tourists “take a picture” can be read at the entrance.

Junho Jeong shows photos he took with his daughter at one of these places.
Junho Jeong shows photos he took with his daughter at one of these places.Elizabeth Rubio

Although these places are now circulating on networks such as TikTok and Instagram, they are not new, Junho Jeong explains. The 43-year-old Korean man claims that he also used to go to photo booths with his friends about 15 years ago. Remember, the main difference at that time was that the machines printed small labels that were distributed and exchanged among themselves.

When Jeong visited one of these new photo booths with his 13-year-old daughter a few weeks ago, he felt a little nostalgic. It is not clear to him “whether the success is related to social networks or rather related to the fact that it is fashionable to return to the past.” He muses on this: “My generation grew up with physical photos and then got used to a smartphone. We don’t print photos anymore, not even our family photos. On the other hand, my daughter has always lived with her smartphone, and having these photos is a way to form a physical memory with her friends and family.”

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