Notifications

Audio

Franklyn Swantek: photobooth mystery man's identity revealed

An unknown man featured in 445 selfies taken over several decades during the 20th century has finally been identified, solving a mystery that has long intrigued photo historians.

Tom Trelenberg, Swantek's nephew, recognizes him in photos

The collection of 445 self-portraits featuring an unknown man has sparked a mystery about his identity and how the photos came to exist. (Zimmerli Art Museum)

An unknown man featured in 445 selfies taken over several decades has finally been identified, solving a mystery that has intrigued photo historians.

A Nevada man says the man in the photos is his late uncle, Franklyn Swantek, a Photomatic distributor and operator.

Tom Trelenberg told CBC Radio's As It Happens that he made the discovery after reading an article about the mystery online.

Looking at the accompanying photos, Trelenberg said he thought, "Gee, that looks like my Uncle Franklyn."

The trove of self-portraits — all featuring Swantek — was turned into an art collection entitled Four Hundred and Forty-Five Portraits of a Man. The photographs were purchased at an auction in New York and put on display at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University earlier this year.

Swantek appears to be in his 30s in the earliest photographs, and likely in his mid-60s in the last portraits.

Until now, nobody knew the identity of the man in the photographs, and theories spawned about who he could be. Realizing the photos were taken with a Photomatic Photobooth, a contraption invented in the 1920s, some believed the man was either an owner of a photo shop or a travelling salesman who peddled the device.