Long before the term selfie became the word of the year, one man took hundreds of photographs of himself. His reason for taking photos, just like his identity, remains to be a mystery.
If one examines the black and white photos, all portraits show the same man who stared straight at the camera, sometimes changing facial expressions. The frames he used were metal, plastic or cardboard.
The owner of the unusual collection is photography historian Donald Lokuta. He acquired the set of prints about a year ago from an antiques show. Since then he has been trying to track down the identity of the man on the photos.
“Not knowing is very mysterious. It’s like an abstract painting. “You’re going to fill in the blanks yourself. You bring to it what you know, and if we don’t know anything, we sort of make up a story,” Lokuta said.
The photographs were taken in a Photomatic photo booth. According to Lokuta, the mystery man must have started taking the photos in the 1930s and continued to do so for about three decades.
The collection is part of an exhibition called “Striking Resemblance: The Changing Art of Portraiture”. Anyone curious to view the display can visit the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey until July.
Readers and viewers have come up with various theories on why the man took almost 450 selfies. One theory is similar to the famous French movie Amelie: the man worked for a company that maintained the photo booth. What adds more interest to this mystery is the fact that he kept all self-portraits all these years.
Lokuta was determined to get answers so he established contact with Nakki Goranin, the author of “American Photobooth” who curiously had some photos of the same guy. The photographs owned by Goranin, however, were not solo portraits because the unidentified man was accompanied by children. (See photo below)
According to the CNN article, Goranin has a hunch as to the identity of the mystery man but will have to do further research before she discloses additional information.
Donna Gustafson, curator of the Zimmerli Art Museum shares the same sentiments Lokuta and other viewers of the display: the mystery of the portrait collection is highly interesting.
“We just really don’t know much about the man except that he seems to have enjoyed having his photo – his selfie – done and he saved them all… And how is it possible that we have 445 pictures of a man and we know nothing about him?” Gustafson said.