Interview with Da Booth
Angela Dawn & David Staley Want to Take Your Picture
If you have ever spent your weekend partying at Refuge, Sauce Box, The Crown Room, or any of other poppin' spots, I'm sure you have seen a brightly colored photo booth set-up somewhere to the side of the room. And if you have, I am also sure that you have had your photo taken by Angela Dawn or her partner David Staley. Angela and David are the founders of Portland's premiere photo bo 2000 oth company, Da Booth. I met up with them several weeks ago to talk about how they got started and why they are so popular. We found each other at Ross Island Cafe and I was greeted with a hug and an invitation to walk down the block to their home for a quiet place to chat.
Dawn grew up in Salem and moved to Seattle to attend the Art Institute for commercial photography. “Angela was big on art in high school though, she was like running shit in high school,” Staley says proudly. “I was getting jobs right out of school, started a gallery, and started shooting a ton of events,” Dawn explains. Peggy Curtis, who used to manage Pearl Jam, was her agent at that time, so she was getting a lot of jobs shooting musicians, and then landed a job working for Rolling Stone. “My friend was writing for them and got me some gigs with them, and then from there I was like immediately into the electronic scene, which I wasn't into it at all in Seattle,” she explains. Now living in Portland, already with a name for herself she continued shooting frequently at places like the Crown Room. “In the general scene, and the electronic scene, ‘Angela Dawn Photo’ was sort of a notorious watermark,” Staley tells me.
When Dawn moved to Portland from Seattle, she started her own gallery space inside the Sugar Gallery. This is where Staley came into the picture. “He had a loft upstairs, in Everett Street Lofts, so we would see each other all the time within that little art scene.” She tells me how one day while looking at his artwork she asked a friend who's it was, only to find out it was the guy she would see all the time, “running around the neighborhood. After like a year of knowing each other we were both sending each other photos of what we were both doing and kind of staying connected via art... and we started dating and have been pretty much inseparable since then.”
The two do make a beautiful couple, and apparently they make a great business team as well. “See this kid grew up in Alaska in the forest with like no running water or electricity so when he gets technology in his hands he likes to read the manuals from like front to back," Dawn says. "And for me, I'm like 'does it do what I need it to do?' Sweet.” Staley has his degree in design management and graphics, pair that with Dawn's knowledge and background in art and photography and it seems to work perfectly.
The idea for Da Booth was born at the EMRG+N+SEE festival two years ago when the couple was offered a booth space in return for shooting the event. They weren't quite sure what to do with their booth space, and Staley suggested making a photo booth. He says, “At that point we didn’t know what the name of our company was.” “It was just one solo 10x10 and we decorated it inside on the back wall with like tissue paper flowers,” Dawn adds. Even so, by the end of the festival the couple already had people asking them to bring the photo booth to their events as well. So from there, they decided they would need to have business cards, a website, the whole deal.
The name actually came about one day when Dawn was talking to her mother about it. She quotes her mother as saying, “you guys are always talking slang, saying you are going to set up da booth, da booth, why don’t you call it DA booth?” It was settled, they designed a logo, using a blue D and a pink A and that was that.
Da Booth is now not only booked by nightclubs and venues, but for Birthday Parties, Proms and most recently Bar Mitzvahs. After being booked for one, from referrals they are already booked for a good fifteen more. Da Booth's biggest new clients include Cirque Du Soleil and EMP in Seattle. “ It is good to branch out though.” Staley says. “We totally went to California last year and did some festivals. One in particular, we went and did Lightning in a Bottle and just set our stuff up, renegade... but in turn we got called to California for a wedding cause people loved our photos.”
“We try not to take up more than we can chew," admits Dawn. "We try to pick out the big events in town, if we want something we go out and get it for the booth, but we have been getting so much work from referrals and that's our only marketing at this point.” It seems to me that they don't need much more marketing at this point either, especially since they have such an amazing support system here in Portland. The couple explains how Portland is a great place for this company to strive because everyone is so supportive. “People really have your back and the companies, they believe in you and they wanna see you do good, so that's a huge thing for us," says Dawn.
If you have never seen Da Booth, you may be wondering what is it that is so special and makes everyone want to book it for their event? Well, it's a couple of things. Firstly, they are always unique. You aren't going to see Da Booth time after time with the same props and backdrops. They are constantly coming up with new ideas and keeping things fresh. “We have a real hard time doing the same booth over and over," says Staley. "Once we do it a few times, we are like aw.. we gotta come up with something else, what’s the next move? That's something that sets us apart too, people are like ‘nothing that you do has become bland yet’ it's not like 'oh there’s the booth again', its like 'oh wow look what they came up with this time,' and that’s what we pride ourselves with is keeping on top of our creativity.”
Secondly, these aren't just any photo booth photos that you get in the end. “We use L series lenses and we're not making it like a gypped photo booth for people, these photos these people will have the rest of their lives,” says Dawn. The team works with a company called Smug Mug, which allows them to edit and print the photos professionally as well as provides the costumer with different products they can order as well as the images online with just a click of their mouse. Their website is set up so you can click on the event you were photographed at, view your photos, save them with Da Booths watermark for yourself, or purchase them and you will receive your photo with Da Booth's watermark taken off, which is a brilliant option that most photographers wont offer you. Also (for the most part) they put up every shot they take, so there is no hoping that they liked the same one that you did, you just get to choose from all of them! “Yeah, but what happens in the booth, stays in the booth,” says Staley. "Yeah, we've seen everything in there,” adds Dawn.
So by now, I am thinking you want to hire Da Booth for your next event, and if you are, here are some of the things they have to offer. You can either choose from the four or five packages they have available, which you can view on their website or they can make alterations to meet your desires. I was taken into a room in their house where I saw a large, Victorian looking photo frame on the wall. “Noir, this old club in town, they had mirrors in them and there was a bunch of them so we got gifted this and that was one of our first photo booths," recalls Dawn. "But everyone likes it so this thing has been every color of the rainbow, on whatever kind of wall. We'll just be like, pick a wall paper pick a color of paint... and that's one of our cheaper packages.”
The balloon booth is another option that is popular.“ We are doing so many proms coming up and we will do school colors.” Always keeping things exciting and fun, they will release the balloons in clusters out over the crowd at the end of the night.
If you haven't been photographed by these two, I highly recommend attending the next event they will be working. Dawn and Staley are both genuinely friendly and fun to be around. They will make you feel comfortable and inspire you to grab your friends and have a slew of memorable photos taken with props like fake mustaches and smiles to get you in the photo booth mood.