Portraits of Projectionists: Photos of the People Who Play Movies at Theaters

Sitting in a movie theater is probably a very familiar experience to most of you, but what’s it like to watch the movie from the projection room — that room with a small window at the back of each theater that holds the projector.

New York City-based photographer Joseph O. Holmes has a new project called The Booth that offers a glimpse into these rooms and the people who work in them.

Holmes spent the past year visiting the projection booths of various movie theaters in New York and some of the surrounding states. He has been rushing to complete his project as of late due to the fact that theaters across the nation are now dumping film projectors in favor of digital ones.

His goal is to capture the beauty of the projectors and portraits of the people who run them before they’re gone forever. (Digital projectors largely do away with the need for a projectionist to run them.)

Here’s what Holmes tells us about how the project came about and how it was done:

The idea for the project occurred to me one evening as my wife and I sat in a movie theater waiting for the lights to go down, and I turned to look back at the little window above the audience. I’ve always been curious about what went on in that inaccessible room, what kinds of people and machines filled the space. And it occurred to me that those spaces would make a fascinating subject for my camera.

The project is often exhausting. Some of theaters have been as much as a three-hour drive away, while others involve taking multiple subway trains and walking long distances with my equipment on a hand-truck.

In addition to camera, lenses and tripod, I carry lighting equipment. The light inside a projection booth isn’t just dim, it’s awful: aging, dim fluorescents for the most part. Thus, all the photos of people are lit with a softbox and Nikon Speedlights. If my 21-year-old son Julian is available, I take him as my assistant, to carry the bags and to hold the softbox. If he isn’t available, I used a remote control to trip the shutter on my Nikon D800 while holding the softbox myself; the lights are triggered by PocketWizard remotes.

Holmes is aiming to complete the project within the next couple of months, and is constantly looking for suggestions (and connections) for movie theaters to photograph in the New York area. You can find more photos from this project over on Holmes’ website.

Image credits: Photographs by Joseph O. Holmes and used with permission

  • Pablo Vernier


  • Jeff Foster

    Wow. Truly nice. Great idea and excellent results.

  • Henri

    I love these, really beautiful, especially the expressions on people’s faces!

  • DamianMonsivais

    Interesting Idea, but it doesn’t seem to be fully developed.

    Its to repetitive. But it has potential.

  • Anthony Harrison

    Had the chance to go into one of these rooms recently – blew my mind

  • Susie Centeno-Cannon

    Good and interesting shots! My attention though, went to the dismal environment these people work in. The theaters can’t paint the walls? Put down new flooring? These rooms look like dilapidated slums. I would not want to work in these rooms, even for a short time.

  • Robisierra

    great idea :)

  • Daniel Villarroel T.

    these all look like very nice fellas!

  • Derrick

    This brings back so many memories. I worked as a projectionist in a small midwestern movie theater. What they don’t show you in this is how hot it gets in those rooms. The light bulb in the projector puts out so much heat that if you put your hand in front of it, you will burn your hand. This is why you’ll see the film melt away on the screen if the movie stops abruptly.

  • Karen Rangeley

    nice idea and interesting portraits…I would have loved to have seen them from the theatre side too, peering out from through the little aperture…

  • Jimmy Hickey

    Fantastic! I love environmental portraits like this!

  • Richard W

    What you see in these pictures is one projector and a platter system which is the current setup. I worked as a projectionist from 1962-1975 in Los Angeles. During that time I went through school and earned a BS degree in Business. In those
    days there were always two projectors in the booth and you made a change over from
    one to the other about every twenty minutes. The features usually consisted of
    five to six reels. The lamps were carbon arc which had to be maintained during the show for even lighting to remain on the screen. Also the theatres showed a
    double feature for the price of one admission. Breakdown of the show was on Tuesday
    night with build up on Wednesday. I worked six days a week with double shifts (which translated into twelve hour straight time days) on Saturday and Sunday.
    Paint the walls, put down new flooring? If the public did not see it, management did not care. What these pictures don’t show is the sink and toilet (which were required by Los Angeles Building and Safety Code at the time) in every projection room because the projectionist was not allowed to leave the projection room once the show started in case of fire. There was also a small toaster oven to cook your lunch or dinner in. Remember you could not leave until the last show was completed. Actually you did not care how the room looked. You only cared about the running condition of the projectors and it’s related systems because your job depended on them. If they failed you were held responsiblethat management had to refund admissions.

  • Allan Fleisher

    What a trip down memory lane.
    I’m glad I did it when I did it.
    Allan Fleisher
    (I.A.T.S.E. Local 173- Ret.)