Shop Etsy

A Portrait of America Through the Magnolia Photo Booth

Jan 4, 2011

by Julie Schneider

Flash, flash, flash, flash! The giddy moments behind the curtain of a photo booth mark some of my favorite memories. I have a habit of stopping into any photo booth that crosses my path, resulting in a box full of photographs documenting my friends and I from awkward braces and hair-parted-like-a-curtain-down-the-middle years at the mall, to summery days at Coney Island, to time spent in the impeccable, handcrafted Magnolia Photo Booths that I first discovered at the Renegade Craft Fairs this past year.

The Magnolia Photo Booth Company sprouted up in 2007, bringing portable photo booths to all sorts of events and happenings, including weddings, craft fairs, art openings, parties and beyond. The company and the booths themselves were dreamt up and built from scratch by Peter Tower and cohort Daniel Sanders. What caught my eye when I first got my picture taken in one of these contraptions at Renegade was not only the beautiful quality of the photographs and the built-in fun of photo booths in general, but the clever design of the booths. I’ve really never seen one quite like it!

The Magbooth crew has hatched a scheme to bring their photographic fun to cities and towns across the country. They have ambitions to drive a custom-built Westfalia that runs on bio-diesel across the U.S.A. with a photo booth built into it. Their goal is to capture a Portrait of America through the eyes of an earth-friendly, one-of-a-kind, country-traveling photo booth. Through January 6, 2011, you have the chance to help make the Portrait of America project a reality and to bring a real, live Magbooth to your hometown by pledging your support to the project by visiting their Kickstarter page.

Read on for more insights into what happens behind the curtain at the Magnolia Photobooth Company through my interview with Peter Tower himself:

You craft these booths with your own two hands, right? How did you get the idea and the know-how?

I do craft the booths with my own hands. Let’s just say that my favorite book as a kid was Mr. Fix It. From years of extensive Lego creations, to working on horse ranches and as a handyman, I picked up some useful building and engineering skills. I also dabbled in photography school a bit and worked as a wedding photographer for a while. The combination of all those skills turned me into a crafty photo booth designing whiz.

The idea actually came from my friend Daniel some years back. He is a software genius and wanted to have a photo booth for an annual Kentucky Derby party that he had at his house. He created some software that could communicate between a camera and a printer to create a basic photo booth. I came along with my Mr. Fix It photographer know-how and our photo booth creations started to take off.

Over the years our software design has been taken over by a team of high-end coders, but I am still happy to spend hours in the workshop building booths or coming up with new designs. My days full of routers and Mig welders don’t happen as often as they used to, but I do get to play around every once in a while. With all the time I spend in planes these days visiting all of our cities, I do get a lot of drawing time. I love coming up with new concepts like redesigning the booth drop slot or the screen mounting bracket. The process of seeing one of my drawings go from paper to prototype to laser cut polished steel finished product is super satisfying. The only problem is that most of my ideas come at night when I am in bed, so sleeping is a bit rare for me.

Here’s a behind-the-scenes glimpse of our headquarters:


So, without revealing your Trade Secrets, what goes into the making of your photo booths?

Traditional wet process photo booths are an elaborate combo of precise engineering and fairly toxic chemicals. Modern digital photo booths can be as complex as arcade video games or as simple as laptop tethered to a camera and printer. Our photo booths are somewhere in the middle. The goal of our photo booths is to look great and create awesome photographs. To do that we use some very high-end photographic gear combined with our custom made software that includes some fancy digital filters. The booth is pretty much a very compact portrait studio. We control the lighting environment and calibrate all the gear to create the perfect picture taking moment. One of the key aspects of our booths that helps us create awesome pics is our graphic design. Our graphics have the look and feel of old classic photo booths and include some vintage call to actions, like “Gentleman please comb your mustache” and “Children photograph perfectly.” These help get people in the mood to take some fun pictures.

What is the Magnolia HQ like?

Magbooth HQ in Louisville, KY is a classic American downtown storefront. It’s in an old industrial part of town that more and more businesses are starting to call home. The owner of the building used to have a lamp store in it and filled the space with amazing old lamps and trinkets. He filled an exposed brick wall with old door knobs and colored glass to create an old timey mosaic. We have added a skyline mural with attacking robots and hold monthly art exhibits that coincide with the Trolley Hop Art Walk. When the weather is nice we set up a booth on the sidewalk and let the crowds enjoy some free photo boothing.

What do you think are the ingredients for a good photo?

The best photo booth pics are those that tell a story or play out a scene. To the left is a set that my good friends Ty and Amanda took in a booth in Seattle. It is one of my favorites. By the way, Ty is our graphic designer and Amanda did the mural in the office. For all members of Team Magbooth, the challenge is always to perfect the full body shot.

I loved this story about the man at a medical respite center venturing to have his photo taken for the first time in 15 years in one of your booths. Do you have any other notable photo booth tales?

We leave every event with new stories. For example, there is always that one middle-aged woman at any event. Generally speaking she has had a couple kids and life has gotten a little more difficult than it used to be. She works too much either raising kids or working to pay for those kids, and the days of feeling pretty don’t come around much anymore. Most of the pictures that happen are with some cheap point and shoot camera and usually involve awkward posing and bad lighting. Now she is at a wedding and spots the photo booth. I see her and I tell her that she should take a picture. She says something back like, “Oh, I don’t want to break your camera,” and she declines.

Eventually, with some help from her kids or maybe a couple drinks, I convince her to get in the booth. She is timid about it but takes a picture. She gets out and is pessimistic about what is about to come out of the machine. She grabs the print and a loud laugh or a look of surprise usually emerges. She says, “Man, I actually look pretty good!” Then says something like, “Man, this reminds me of my childhood.” All of a sudden this person who hasn’t felt pretty in a while just received a complimenting photograph that she really likes. Boom. From that point on she gets in the booth 20 times over the course of the evening. She now feels a bit better about herself and has created some awesome pics that she will gladly share with her friends and family for the first time in a long while. It happens all the time that people say, “Man, this is the first picture that I have taken in 10-15 years that I actually like. I mean, wow, I look good.”

What are some of your favorite items in your prop box? Who makes the props?  

The best props are the custom props that we have made. The mustaches are a big hit and our friends at Because We Can make those and Melissa Liptrap of the Makery (a.k.a. dearestinez here on Etsy) makes little felt props like “his and her” birds and such. But, my favorite prop of all is this little Fisher Price guitar. Check out my friend Teresa killin’ it with the guitar below!

Where do you hope the Portrait of America project will bring you? What do you hope the project will bring to America?

The problem with running any business is that you have to run a business. It is hard to get away from the constant pressure of increasing revenue and staying competitive. Our Portrait of America project is a chance for all of us to enjoy an epic creative endeavor that is not fueled by the bottom line. I have been lucky to take part in some amazing road trips in the past, including a 6-month tour of the U.S. with a band I was in. The connections you make with other people on the road and the stories that come from them are an important part of understanding what it means to be an American.

My sister and her husband did a year-long around-the-world trip after they got married. They wanted to expand their horizons before they had kids, so that they could pass on a culture of stories and shared experiences to their future brood. I hope that myself and my staff can help bring that sort of connection to as many people as possible. The photo booth represents one of the last true photographic tools that can create an unbiased document of anyone. Look in any magazine and you will see elaborate images of celebrities and politicians that photographers have molded to be dramatic and stylized. They are great to look at, but are rarely done of the common person.

A photo booth doesn’t care who you are and won’t direct you to be something you are not. The magic of a photo booth is that the creativity lies in the user, not the photographer. My fifth grade school teacher or my little nephew or a homeless man has just as good a chance to create an epic image as would Lady Gaga or Barack Obama. (Obviously I hope that all five people mentioned get to experience the booth on our trip.) That is why the photo booth is such a great tool to capture an actual portrait of America.

What advice do you have for burgeoning frontiersman on Etsy?

Do good work. If you are going to create something, then make sure that you can stand behind it with full confidence. To get people to respond to your art or craft, it has to represent you at your best. There is always going to be a Wal-Mart out there selling crap for next to nothing, but you have to believe that there are enough people out there who want something that represents something more, something unique.

And, don’t forget, you have till January 6 to support the Portrait of America project! If you have taken a sweet photo in a Magbooth, do share a link in the comments below.

Photography on Etsy | More This Handmade Life Posts

Sailor Guy in Navy photobooth photo booth
Sailor Guy in Navy photobooth photo booth
Photobooth Photo Strip... Original Old Photo.
Photobooth Photo Strip... Original Old Photo.
PHOTOS Vintage / Antique Style Sign with Pointing Hand or Finger 32 x 8
PHOTOS Vintage / Antique Style Sign with Pointing Hand or Finger 32 x 8
$68.95 USD
photo strip - boys, brothers, kids, children - sepia tone, PHOTOBOOTH - fun, collage, play
photo strip - boys, brothers, kids, children - sepia tone, PHOTOBOOTH - fun, collage, play
Large Photo Booth Couple tinted original vintage photo
Large Photo Booth Couple tinted original vintage photo
vintage photobooth photos (4) - girls - woman - lady - woman - antique - collage - instant ancestors
vintage photobooth photos (4) - girls - woman - lady - woman - antique - collage - instant ancestors


  • JudiPaintedit

    JudiPaintedit said 6 years ago

    I love the behind-the-scenes glimpse photos..... Funny.

  • BingoBox

    BingoBox said 6 years ago

    That is truly awesome !!

  • LoveINmind

    LoveINmind said 6 years ago

    Love your ideas!

  • Dreamerofworlds

    Dreamerofworlds said 6 years ago

    What a cool idea! I would love to have a photo booth at my wedding, I bet that would be a blast for everyone!

  • MegansMenagerie

    MegansMenagerie said 6 years ago

    Great ideas! Very cool =)

  • hattieshouse

    hattieshouse said 6 years ago

    a favorite childhood memory.... not having enough money for the movie theatre's photo booth, Amy held my legs while I fished pennies out of the old mall fountain. Man, being a kid and doing silly stuff like that is the best!

  • beadfuddle

    beadfuddle said 6 years ago

    Cool concept!

  • Moxiedoll

    Moxiedoll said 6 years ago

    I ♥ Magnolia!

  • seababejewelry

    seababejewelry said 6 years ago

    oh, i love a good photo booth. cheese!

  • TheVinylChalkboard

    TheVinylChalkboard said 6 years ago

    This is Amazing! I love what you've done!

  • BubbleGumAndButtons

    BubbleGumAndButtons said 6 years ago

    LoVe It! Very COOL Concept! ~You know it is from "Bubble Gum and Buttons" when you find the button!~

  • Asianexpressions

    Asianexpressions said 6 years ago

    Way cool!

  • Mattie714

    Mattie714 said 6 years ago

    I loooove this idea! I hope it can actually happen and you can come to NC!

  • mooshoopork

    mooshoopork said 6 years ago

    super fun great idea! i like it! photo booth pics always bring a smile to my face :)

  • mybeardedpigeon

    mybeardedpigeon said 6 years ago

    So brilliant!

  • Earleyimages

    Earleyimages said 6 years ago

    What a kool idea love this

  • SweetlyFallen

    SweetlyFallen said 6 years ago

    Looks like so much fun! Made me smile! Thanks for sharing!

  • paramountvintage

    paramountvintage said 6 years ago

    i love photobooth photos. it lets out everyones wild side.

  • shannondzikas

    shannondzikas said 6 years ago

    This idea and these photos just lit up my day! You're spreading joy all over the place!

  • picketfencecrafts

    picketfencecrafts said 6 years ago

    When my boys were younger, they had their photo taken in one of those photo booths that made the picurte look like it was pencil drawn. They were just being goofy, but it really captured their personalities. Great idea!!

  • VelveteenHabbit

    VelveteenHabbit said 6 years ago

    Wonderful! Great idea!

  • VivaGailBeads

    VivaGailBeads said 6 years ago

    This looks like so much fun! I have always loved photo booths...some of my fav pics are from photo booths...those curtains give your license to be silly!

  • VitalVintage

    VitalVintage said 6 years ago

    This is so great! Love it! Now I want to open a B&M vintage shop just so I can put a photo booth in it.

  • Evajune

    Evajune said 6 years ago

    Some of my favorite photos are from photo booths. It looks like such a fun time!

  • choisette

    choisette said 6 years ago

    peter, you are that rare combination of philosopher, cultural anthropologist, and smart + funny guy who can fix things. pretty much the perfect man.

  • Magbooth

    Magbooth said 6 years ago

    Hey it's Peter from Team Magbooth. Keep the comments coming and don't forget to check out the Kickstarter page. Also send over any fun ideas that involve photo booth prints or for new prop ideas.

  • accentonvintage

    accentonvintage said 6 years ago

    Wonderful story and so nostalgic! Great endeavor!

  • grandmamarievintage

    grandmamarievintage said 6 years ago

    Very cool article. So interesting.

  • Jusadreamin

    Jusadreamin said 6 years ago

    Like your IDEAL thanks for sharing

  • maclancy

    maclancy said 6 years ago

    just say the word photo booth and I am there. From the earliest booths I was jamming myself and friends and family inside to capture a private and often wild moment with almost instant results! I love the concept of telling a story in the booth photos and more than once I wished I had one of those booths in my home. Thanks SO much for sharing this article and for the feature! for any fiends of the photo booth I and others have lots of wonderful vintage photo booth images to look at on flckr!

  • reiddamnit

    reiddamnit said 6 years ago

    this sounds pretty cool, my plege is in!

  • GloryBDesign

    GloryBDesign said 6 years ago

    This is just one of the greatest ideas ever! I will definitely be checking out the kickstart page!

  • odiliafu

    odiliafu said 6 years ago

    Very cool! Love the idea.

  • HulaGirl1922

    HulaGirl1922 said 6 years ago

    "She glances at the photo, and the pilot light of memory flickers in her eyes.” Frank Deford some cool memories were made in a photobooth ...wink ...wink... :) fab post ♥ thanks

  • MyGraceNotes

    MyGraceNotes said 6 years ago

    I attended an event for Yelp and Magbooth was there. All my friends loved the photo booth and we want to hire them for our next company party!

  • polkadotmagpie

    polkadotmagpie said 6 years ago

    Great view into your world. Lots of photo booth parties when I was working in the movie biz. Thanks for bringing more fun into the world.

  • beliz82

    beliz82 said 6 years ago

    Awesome !!!!

  • lorrainezoe

    lorrainezoe said 6 years ago

    Oh wowza! Two of my favorite things in the world- etsy and Magbooth!! We had a Magbooth at our wedding and I got to know the Magbooth team pretty well. They are AMAZING people! I can't get enough of them! So creative and fun and downright good folks. If you want to have the time of your life get in a Magbooth! All my favorite photos are Magbooth photos- it's true! The quality is spectacular. ps- Those silly cutouts above are of my honey and myself! Our wedding guests went nuts for those! Great props ;)

  • futurowoman

    futurowoman said 6 years ago

    So wonderful! We had a lot of fun in their booth at Renegade Austin -- whoo hoo! ;)

  • lorrainezoe

    lorrainezoe said 6 years ago

    Some of my favorite Magbooth photos from our wedding!

  • tippleandsnack

    tippleandsnack said 6 years ago

    I'm a long time photobooth photo fan. Nice to see the art form revitalized!

  • SkewlPsych

    SkewlPsych said 6 years ago

    We loved the booth at Renegade in NYC. We looked so fab in our mustaches. And we have the pix to celebrate a great day. Thanks!

  • breadandroses2

    breadandroses2 said 6 years ago

    Photobooths were hugely popular in the 50s & 60s and it's fabulous Magbooth has brought it back. Big fun!

  • DetectivBrunette

    DetectivBrunette said 6 years ago

    I LOVE this!!! Great job guys :-)

  • filofashion

    filofashion said 6 years ago

    Great idea !

  • daydreamjewels

    daydreamjewels said 6 years ago

    Great idea! Congrats :)

  • myvintagecrush

    myvintagecrush said 6 years ago

    Love it, love it! Very cool!

  • arsniccandy

    arsniccandy said 6 years ago

    Very interesting. I like it!!!:)

  • arcoirishandcrafted

    arcoirishandcrafted said 6 years ago

    Pete, I always knew youd be infamous one day! ;P

  • rarebeasts

    rarebeasts said 6 years ago

    What a great idea, I really like it.

  • AvianInspirations

    AvianInspirations said 6 years ago

    I love this!

  • MissYvonneNicole

    MissYvonneNicole said 6 years ago

    Absolutely amazing! Love it :)

  • GeeZees

    GeeZees said 6 years ago

    Great idea! I just did a canvas for a wedding and their picture was all in photo booth.

  • Parachute425

    Parachute425 said 6 years ago

    What a riot! Genius. Love to see photo booths at weddings.

  • elmstreetmarket

    elmstreetmarket said 6 years ago

    This is so cool and inspiring! Every time I see a photo booth, I think of Amelie. She would love this!

  • funkthejunk

    funkthejunk said 6 years ago


  • SallysJewelsandgems

    SallysJewelsandgems said 6 years ago

    This is sooo cool. You rule!

  • redemptionart

    redemptionart said 6 years ago

    Cool project, unfortunately Hawaii doesn't appear to be included in "America" wah!

  • KMalinka

    KMalinka said 6 years ago


  • dirtyMohair

    dirtyMohair said 6 years ago

    I love photo booths!

  • theroyal

    theroyal said 6 years ago


  • bigbluebed

    bigbluebed said 6 years ago


  • LittleWrenPottery

    LittleWrenPottery said 6 years ago

    Fabulous photos, really love the unusual snapshots looks like a lot of fun!

  • HadaraTLV

    HadaraTLV said 6 years ago

    Love this idea

  • PatinaArtsAlchemy

    PatinaArtsAlchemy said 6 years ago

    So unique and playful!

  • AdeloCreations

    AdeloCreations said 6 years ago

    sooo funny, great idea!Simple, yet innovative

  • StyleSupplierCOM

    StyleSupplierCOM said 6 years ago

    really funny, cool ideas.

  • carlossantiago

    carlossantiago said 6 years ago

    i love the studio and the idea of it! it looks like fun!

  • blueskyclouds

    blueskyclouds said 6 years ago

    What an absolutely great idea...and I LOVE the headquarters interior!!!!!!!!!!!

  • blessedvintage

    blessedvintage said 6 years ago

    i love this, i spent my teens in photo booths. namaste

  • blessedvintage

    blessedvintage said 6 years ago

    i love this, i spent my teens in photo booths. namaste

  • atelierpompadour

    atelierpompadour said 6 years ago

    beautiful idea!! amazing headquarter!!

  • paivacrafts

    paivacrafts said 6 years ago

    This is so great! Good luck guys!

  • 2007musarra

    2007musarra said 6 years ago

    Pete- Wow you are magic!!!! I love the idea of what you are trying to achieve. Nothing speaks so much to the heart as the photos from that special day or just any day! Best of luck to you all

  • princessdoodlebeans

    princessdoodlebeans said 6 years ago

    AMAZING!!! love those mustaches :D

  • SimpleJoysPaperie

    SimpleJoysPaperie said 6 years ago

    Photo booths are so much fun! I really enjoyed this article. :)

  • favoritescents

    favoritescents said 6 years ago

    Saving this until I have more time to completely read it. What a wonderful idea. I have very few of these photo booth photos, but do have some. Everyone should experience the fun of it.

  • EverybodyElse

    EverybodyElse said 6 years ago

    This is such a cool article and such a cool idea. I love it.

  • montagery

    montagery said 6 years ago

    Love their style!

  • rule42

    rule42 said 6 years ago

    I'm kicking myself for missing the opp to use one of these ingenious little devices at Renegade LA last month :O(

  • IceCreamCandy

    IceCreamCandy said 6 years ago

    so cute!!

  • pinkbijou

    pinkbijou said 6 years ago


  • PilarOriginals

    PilarOriginals said 6 years ago

    This is such a wonderful article and if you know Peter like I do, he appears exactly how he is. a straight-up, super creative, 100% mover and shaker. I can't wait to see what comes of the epic road trip. and there's still time to get a sweet hardbound book of the whole experience for pledging only $40 on kickstarter! and p.s. here is a link to my photo taken at the Renegade Craft Fair with fellow photoboother Brandon. oh....and Captain EO too.

  • awestruckkk

    awestruckkk said 6 years ago

    wonderful - there is nothing I like more than snapshots of everyday life.

  • CoreySue

    CoreySue said 6 years ago

    I think this is a rockin idea guys! I can't wait to hear updates.

  • OldNewAgain

    OldNewAgain said 6 years ago

    What an amazing story!!!

  • 1canoe2

    1canoe2 said 6 years ago

    LOVE your photo booths! We saw you at the Renegade Holiday Craft Fair in Chicago...♥-chicago/

  • LeiChartru

    LeiChartru said 6 years ago

    i <3 the magbooth! we took some photos with them in chicago. i wish they would send their bio-photobooth across the pacific and visit hawaii :)

  • tinyearsjewelry

    tinyearsjewelry said 6 years ago

    I always see these at weddings, and they are lots of fun... and obviously the pics get better over the course of the night. The ones in the pics above look really well crafted, yet mobile. nice work... Casey @ tin years

  • JessicaMarie27

    JessicaMarie27 said 6 years ago

    Im in love! haha This is an amazing idea and I love every bit of it. Im a photographer and my name is [Your] Photo booth! I cant wait to see where you guys venture to! Hopefully Milwaukee, WI will make it on the map!!! :)

  • JennasRedRhino

    JennasRedRhino said 6 years ago

    This business looks fantastic! Their reinvention of this nostalgic device is perfectly timed and cleverly conceived. I think that this business has fantastic potential, and could do very well. I think it has potential to franchsise.

  • PattiTrostle

    PattiTrostle said 6 years ago

    What a wonderful business! Great article.

  • DecadesOfVintage

    DecadesOfVintage said 6 years ago

    Photo booths are a memory from the past. The next time I see one I have to take my picture...

  • yunapyon

    yunapyon said 6 years ago

    I love photobooth. Great idea! A lot of fun :)

  • thehomeground

    thehomeground said 6 years ago

    This is the best ever! I would love to have one of these at my wedding reception. Too bad I'm in Detroit :( Bring Magnolia to the D!

  • anneshandspun

    anneshandspun said 6 years ago

    My mom and I got to try the booth out at the Renegade Craft Fair in LA. It was so much fun and the prop box had so many cool things in it. So much fun! I want to rent one someday! :)

  • RetroBabs

    RetroBabs said 6 years ago

    This is so fun. My nephew owns a photo booth company in Chicago. Best time at a wedding ever. Check him out. (Adam) Tell him Aunt Barb sent you.

  • HollyDaise

    HollyDaise said 6 years ago

    What an amazing idea! Thankyou for sharing. You rock! Hx

  • sannachristina

    sannachristina said 6 years ago

    Love the concept. So many memories of those booths, but you provide props! Great idea!

  • BadBabyQuilts

    BadBabyQuilts said 6 years ago

    I'm anneshandspun's mom, (she posted just four posts above me) and YES! This is a great idea! I really recommend this photo booth.

  • pamelabecraft

    pamelabecraft said 6 years ago

    My husband and I got this idea, not knowing about these clever fellows, two years ago for our annual family bbq. We built a portable photo booth from large appliance boxes complete with a curtain you could draw closed, painted on a retro look Photo Booth Logo, put his camera on a tripod outside the booth, with the lens through the hole, and spent a good hour letting everyone pop in and out, taking a series of four photos of each person or couple. It was soooo much fun! The pictures are classic. We said to ourselves that this would be a great business... it is good to see that someone actually did create such a business. There is something so special about being in there with the curtain drawn, just you and the camera lens... people cut loose, are themselves, and have sooo much fun! The idea for the cross-country trip is awesome!

  • pamelabecraft

    pamelabecraft said 6 years ago

    PS... It was a lot of work, we had to strap the booth onto the top of the car and drive four hours to get there, set it up, etc. I highly recommend taking advantage of this company if they are in your area...they do all the work, you have all the fun!

  • RAGGEDedgeGear

    RAGGEDedgeGear said 6 years ago

    totally awesome! I'm inspired! Going to try and jury rig my own version for my friend's wedding in March! YAY! Looks like so much fun

  • DanicaLand

    DanicaLand said 6 years ago

    Cant wait for the book- very cool project!

  • vintagegirldezigns

    vintagegirldezigns said 6 years ago

    I always loved photo booths when I was younger. Recently, my niece and I were in a mall and took some pictures in one and had a blast. I think it would be a lot of fun to have one at a wedding...great idea!

Sign in to add your own