Photographer Franck Bohbot is a master of interior and exterior spaces. Whether it’s his attention-grabbing photographs of French pools, grand libraries, or humble basketball courts, for me, it was hard to decide which photo series to interview him about. In the end, I gravitated toward his pictures of American movie theaters because they seemed to evoke a familiar narrative—old Hollywood and the golden days of film.
It’s no easy feat to take an empty space—devoid of people, animals, or weather—and make it shine, but every theater comes to life in Bohbot’s imagination. He originally became interested in the visual arts through cinema before his interests turned to photography, which is now one of his great passions. While working on a project on French theaters, Bohbot stumbled on the Max Linder Panorama, which he calls “a famous venue and a beautiful Parisian movie theater. I told myself that one day I would travel to the U.S. and photograph the movie theaters built during the golden age of Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s.
“The natural and logical place to begin the series was Hollywood, which by the 1910s became the center of the global film industry. After choosing California, I found these movie theaters after doing a lot of research with my wife, who shares my passion for cinema. We were looking for historical, majestic, and common places.”
When I asked Bohbot about his secret tricks for making the theaters glow, he said, “I photographed all the movie theaters empty, shot in color with a medium-format camera. I used many light sources—from the ambient light to the movie screen, house lights, and stage lighting. I had to improvise sometimes. With a long exposure I was able to light some walls and details in the auditorium that the public would not normally see in the dark.” Bohbot often photographed between screenings or during intermissions.
In a time when box office sales are sliding, I was somewhat surprised to see these elaborate old theaters are still in operation. I asked Bohbot about what he hopes will happen to the film industry in the future. “Today many of us watch films on our devices: smartphones, laptops, tablets,” he says. “But I hope we won’t forget the magic of experiencing the ‘Seventh Art’ in its natural habitat—a movie theater. It’s a timeless experience in my opinion that we should appreciate again and again.”