In Paris, Photo Booths For The Stars - Or Anyone Who Wants To Look Like One

What do Rafael Nadal, Marion Cotillard and Zinedine Zidane have in common? They've all had their portraits taken at the legendary Parisian photo studio Harcourt. Now you too can get one of Harcourt's distinctive glamor shots - in a photo

French actress Marion Cotillard's Harcourt portrait (Studio Harcourt)
French actress Marion Cotillard's Harcourt portrait (Studio Harcourt)
Caroline Stevan

The booth is black. The curtain is red velvet. Inside there is a slot to slide in bills, not coins – bills, as in the 10-euro variety. Now smile, we're going to take your photo! Afterwards, out comes a portrait signed "H." H for Harcourt, the famous Parisian photographic studio.

Last year, Harcourt launched its first luxury photo booth at the Festival de Cannes. Since then, the company has scattered seven booths across Paris and its surroundings. The booths are decorated with the images of stars: French actress and model Carole Bouquet, German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, American dancer singer and actress Josephine Baker, and French actor Jean Dujardin have all posed in the Harcourt studios. It's a rite of passage.

It's Harcourt's light that makes its photos special: a skillful blend of shadow and light creates an elegant halo. It's immediately recognizable, a subtle alchemy of light and dark that can give anyone the look of a glamorous celebrity. Achieving this in a studio, with a team on hand and several hours to prepare, is one thing. But can it be replicated in a passport-style photo booth? Come in, have a seat, pay your 10 euros, and try it for yourself.

Three snaps and you're out

Customers have three tries to get it right. To stay in keeping with the style of Harcourt, founded in 1934, people are advised to give just a hint of a smile and keep make-up simple and discrete. But does it work?

That famous halo is definitely there, the blend of clothes very smooth and the grain of the photo perceptible. The difference between this and a typical photo booth, the sort that you find in a train station or shopping center, is striking - even if it's just as difficult to get the swiveling stool to the right height. Taller models need to undertake some serious gymnastics to make sure they are in the center of the light and thus avoid casting unflattering shadows.

"It took 18 months of research and development to achieve the final product," explains Eric Grassi, commercial director of Copyphot. "They idea wasn't to reproduce the Harcourt image exactly. That would be impossible. Instead it was to keep the essence of the image the same. Instead of a flash, there is a system that diffuses the light and tones down the shadows. By placing himself in the middle, the subject creates the light-dark contrast."

Eric Grassi compares the project with that of a haute couture fashion designer launching his ready-to-wear line. To mark the difference between the two, the photo booth portraits are signed with an H, instead of the traditional Harcourt signature. The company has adopted a more popularist approach ever since Francis Dagnan bought the then-bankrupt company in 2007. Harcourt has been offering its services to individuals and businesses for several years now, and the photo booth marks the start of a new era. But will it be to the detriment of the Harcourt influence?

"This initiative does not lower the reputation of the studio," says Marie Savary, PR assistant. "We decided to enter this niche of the market to allow more people, particularly the younger generation, to have a good quality portrait done at an affordable price." In the studio, an "instant portrait" costs up to 900 euros, and a "prestige" photo, 1,900 euros.

Read more from Le Temps in French.

Photo - Studio Harcourt

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