Franck Bohbot captures people's passion for gaming in stunning arcade photos
LA-based photographer Franck Bohbot has captured people's love for gaming in Back To The Arcade, a new series of photos which focuses on the beautiful, neon-lit aesthetics of entertainment machines through the ages.
Taken mainly during 2019, with a selection also snapped in 2021, these photos tap into Franck's life-long love of arcade machines. And as well as giving him a chance to indulge in the design of these stunning gaming devices, Back To The Arcade also allowed Franck to focus on the act of playing and how people interact with places and interiors – all of which are common themes in his work.
Inspired by cinema and games, Back To The Arcade is a culmination of lots of Franck's interests. However, a conversation with his producer friend David made him decide to embark on a project that documented gaming in America.
"Like all my projects, it started with a few pictures," says Franck. "Then, I go deep, very deep, and I went to all of the places that I could find with my camera. That's a sort of kid-like mentality! That's who I am, forever a kid."
As a subject, arcades are uniquely fascinating. Thanks to advances in technology and changing lifestyles, we have been able to see their life and death come and go in the space of a few years. It is further underlined by their presence in movies from the Eighties, an era that has recently made a comeback thanks to nostalgic programmes like Stranger Things being set in that period.
This media backdrop was not lost on Franck when compiling the images that would appear in Back To The Arcade. "When I moved to LA, I realised how fun it is to explore places where a movie has been shot," says Franck. "As a photographer, it's interesting to create images of real things that also have a touch of the cinema or dream world. Arcades are a place you enjoy without being at home. They have always been a place of reunion."
The LA environment certainly has a hyper-real, larger than life feel, which attracted Franck to the area. "It's a place where people come to chase a dream but don't know where to start," he explains. "And many times, a lot of things happen indoors. Outstanding places are hidden because it's spread out, and you have to find the space by yourself, or with friends, and search."
This idea of searching out amazing things definitely comes across in the colours of the photos. Despite featuring brightly lit machines, there is also a darkness to them, which reflects the speakeasy vibe that Franck wanted to achieve. "I consider the work darker, closer to my LA Confidential series. It is a chapter of my time in Los Angeles, I believe. Sometimes I go bright, and sometimes I go dark."
When it comes to how he tracked down the machines, Franck reveals that he has driven all around LA, making a list of leads, asking people for advice, and hunting them down until he has a good shot. "Sometimes I talk with the arcade owners, who were all super kind to me," he says. "I love the people in arcades because they are so passionate."
In fact, it was this uninhibited enthusiasm which came as something of a surprise to Joth when he was putting the series together. "It's a real reunion of the past, present and future when you see a family enjoying their time together," he says. "That's why I've also included VR Arcades in the series, so you can see the different machines and how people interact with the technology."
He adds: "Arcades are also a place where people spend money. The gaming industry is big, and it's not just there to make you happy. But what I see the most when I talk with the owners, for example, those at the Retrovolt Arcade and Neon Retro Arcade, it's how they are passionate about the place they own. It's their dream to have this space come alive for their clients.
"When you are an owner of an arcade, you really need to be passionate about it. And that's also my mentality, to showcase places where people work and try their best to realise their dream. So thanks to them for making these places for us and continuing the dream of bringing arcades back to our hearts."
Franck's photos have already appeared in stunning compilation books, so can we expect something similar for Back To The Arcade? "A book is in talks, and an exhibition in the future would be amazing," he reveals. "I am not in a rush, though. I like to create art, and my daughter loves the series, so what else?"
Explore the full Back To The Arcade series on Franck's site.