The End Of The Line For The Family Album?

The End Of The Line For The Family Album?

I grew up as part of the generation of photographers that developed film (or had a lab develop it) and mounted photos in family albums. At the time, I would remember thinking it wasn't a particularly special exercise or the photos themselves weren't particularly amazing. But how many of you remember the feeling - often years later - of finding those same 'mundane' shots and nostalgically revisiting the past? Wasn't that a powerful and often wonderful feeling? So how on earth have we arrived at a place where we have virtually killed off the family album and that entire experience? More importantly, what can be done so that we can once again experience that rush of physically holding those old memories and enjoying the experience of being transplanted back in time through the medium of photography?

I still have a box of family albums which are one of the few things on the mental “grab that!” list if I ever wake to the smell of burning apartment. As technology has largely killed off the idea of the family album, there are a few things we can (and perhaps should) do to better preserve the memories we capture in today's digital age.

Why should we bother? Well, there was something undeniably satisfying about being able to capture a relatively private, even mundane point in time, and not realize what the emotional significance could be of that given moment until reviewing a photo album at some point in the future.

What has happened to the venerable family album? As I walked home today, I saw at least one answer to that question in the form of the image you see in the featured image of this post, of a couple of family albums thrown out with the rest of the household trash.

For those who might be nostalgic over the loss of the family album, Dutch curator and editor Erik Kessels (founder of ad agency Kessels Kramer) latest exhibition ‘Album Beauty’ provides a walk down memory lane for those who might pine over the lost world of the family photo album.


Kessels explains his motivation for the exhibition:

“We used to be the designers of our photo memories, not just someone who makes a slideshow on a computer. We don’t even have them in albums any more. The function of a photograph has shifted completely.”

Kessels designed his exhibition as an immersive experience, with prints blown up so the subjects are full scale size, so that you feel as if you are actually within a photo album itself.

The exhibition is really a commentary on what we think of photography in the digital age. Digital photography has changed so much of what we do with the photographs we take. Family albums were generally moments that were private and consumed by ourselves and our family. The emphasis today is on sharing almost everything, often with complete strangers through social media.

Most of us will probably not be able to hop over to France to see the exhibition but there are some great photographs of it in this Time article.


What Killed the Family Album?

There seems to be two main contributing reasons:

The huge amount of photos we now take doesn’t make assembling them coherently easier, it actually makes it more difficult. Taking photos is easy, curating and storing them effectively is much more time consuming

Physical media is out. The shoebox or album under the bed full of prints is a strange concept to today's generation when they are being brought up reviewing their life history on a touch screen. Nothing beats looking through that dusty old shoe box or album however, that feeling of fully connecting with real memories and the feeling the physical prints is essential in creating a link back to another point in time


Some Simple Ideas to Better Preserve Your Digital Photo Memories

1.) Curate Your Work

Set a few hours aside each month and go back over what you have shot that month and set aside which photos you wish to keep and possibly print. I keep a dedicated folder on the desktop and just drag and drop key images there to make it simple just to access and actually do something with those images. Once a month, clear the folder out, and start the process again.

2.) Make Back Ups

If you have photos online, ensure you have copies stored locally (physically or in the cloud) of the images that you really care about and would wish to be able to show your kids or grandkids. You can begin to collate these through the curating process.

3.) Keep a Separate Back Up Copy At Another Location

If you have physical back ups, keep at least 2 copies, and ideally keep one off site. I’ve found that cloud and physical copies are a great way to handle back up data solutions, but whatever you do, make sure you have at least two copies of the work you really care about. The great thing about digital is we don't ever have to lose those prints to floods or fire damage which used to be the problem with printed media. Now we can make use of all the different data back up options on offer.

4.) Make Prints

Doesn’t have to be your best work, doesn’t have to be framed or even high quality prints, but make an effort to print even a handful of shots each month. It’s inexpensive to make small prints, and you can often ship the files and have the prints delivered directly to your door. You won’t realize just how powerful it is to hold those prints until you look back at them some years down the line, but unless you print them, you’ll never have the opportunity to physically hold them and experience that connection.

I’ve begun to notice a resurgence in people taking Polaroid or instant cameras out with them which recreates the sense of keeping and holding old photographs. Who knows, perhaps we’ll see a trend back towards physical prints and the resurgence of the family album.

I’m curious to know if anyone stills thinks it’s important to keep prints, or if anyone is still making family albums. Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Uroš Zupan's picture

I drag along an old yashica Electro 35 and use it only occasionally. I probably develop 2-4 films per year and most of the pics are weird because I use it for my personal joy. But it is still fantastic when I develop the film and look at the pictures later on. Only problem is that the whole process of buying and developing B&W film costs me around 30-40€ for 30 something pics. So not the cheapest way :)

Why so expensive? I develop films by myself, and I put them in album too. The expensive part is buying a developer, and all the other things necessary for the job. After I got everything, it usually costs me around 5-10 EUR per film roll since I own a negative scanner. After developing I scan the negatives and decide which ones should I print, It saves money.

DeMarcus Allen's picture

Try DxO FilmPack 4 for your digital computer. 60 authentic films available + tons of creative tools also, so you'll still have that same film you shoot with your yashica - minus spending as much to buy film, etc

That is the silliest solution i have ever heard... I think the idea is to shoot film.

Great "idea" that was even greater, say, 15 years ago. Sorry, but everywhere in the world, the places to have film developed (and those companies who actually continue to create film) are becoming smaller and smaller. So you can't at all fault a software who gives you the same thing without having to switch back to using an oft-broken camera or search high and low for a lab that MIGHT give you a nice returned image.

But that is hardly the point. Great.. You have some nice software that can replicate film. No qualms there for the most part ( although it doesn't quite do it for me). It's that he enjoys shooting his yashica. The feeling, the process... And he does it 2-4 times a year. Hardly exorbitant. And then can have lovely prints made. So... I am not faulting software whatsoever... (Though it does NOT produce the same results). I'm merely saying that sitting at a computer and editing isnt really as logical of a solution as say, developing at home.

I am photographing for about 4 years now and the last two of them i made a habit of making 10x15 prints from all the pictures i personally enjoy or find special for some reason. Those go on the back wall in my office with doublesided tape.

Its basicly becoming a scratchbook of 5 by 2.5 meters.

Its maybe 3 to 5 prints per month, but it wil make for a photowall in a a year or so.

Every morning when i walk in, my eye glosses over that wall and i get all warm and fuzzy inside. Not to mention the faces of people walking in there. Priceless :-)

Personally i love print. A picture on a screen is a picture, but a picture on paper seem just more... alive.

David Geffin's picture

couldn't agree more and what a fantastic idea to create a photo wall like that

I am also having the same idea since winter, except I make my prints at the size of 15x21. I shoot on film mostly and really like how does the film grain look on a larger format. Pictures seem even more alive.

Superb post

I think Family albums have evolved into photobooks. I know of a few family members who make books from all of the photos that they when they are on vacation. They have a book for each trip and it's cataloged nicely. What's funny is that as I type this there is a blurb advertisement right above this "Beautiful books. Made by you." =)

why do u always post bullshits? im serious...

Agree - it's not nice sticking male cow poo in the mailbox...just think of the poor postman (or woman)!

Jacob delaRosa's picture

Let's take a look back in time:

Floppy Disk - 1960 - 2010
Compact Disk - 1974 - Present
USB - 1999 - Present
Cloud Storage - 1960's (shocker) - Present

Prints - 1826 - Present

If you have a physical negative or hell, a direct positive like a tin-type etc. you can still "access" the image and produce prints at will. Digital? For all it's awesomeness, storage media keeps changing and some formats are almost impossible to interface with. These days I simply dropbox files to my clients unless they just HAVE to have a CD or I'm using USB drives as part of my marketing. Prints are definitely a better idea for archiving the good stuff.

Spy Black's picture

Great unless the cloud storage service may go out of business, or there is a server breakdown like Microsoft had a few years back when all the data was lost.

Hard rives are cheap.

I always try to make prints (even 4x6) from my photos and keep them in archive box. And I encourage my students to do the same. Every year or so, I pull out my prints and go through them to replace the large prints on my walls. I guess it is because it slows me down, but the physical nature of handling the prints really makes me pay attention to the images in a way that I wouldn't on a screen.

If you have your photos on Instagram, this is a perfect photo album for 200 instagram prints:

Judging by the number of women that went to a scrapbook convention with my wife, I don't think it's dead.

Having spent a month this summer on a road trip with my 15 year old daughter, I went out and bought a Canon Selphy printer.

Awesome little device, and gives one perfect prints for the family album.
I made a few of those "online" photo books, perfect bound, and with a layout of your own device - but honestly, they're really nothing like a family album, one you can reach in and pull the pictures out.

I went on this road trip with my daughter after realizing that, once I'm gone, all she really has left is memories of our time together, and (now) photo albums of our time together.

For Christmas, I have started making calendars for my family from pictures I have taken throughout the year. I specialize each one to each specific family member and their family. It has gotten harder as I now live farther from them and spend less time back home, in which case I will take a picture or two of theirs from their Facebook pages as a filler if need be. One year due to some medical issues I didn't make them and I heard about if for 6 months. Which reminds me it is time to get busy.

DeMarcus Allen's picture

I agree wholeheartedly! This is why I now force myself to create albums after each trip I take. I shoot with the Sony a99, which is digital of course. I still, however, treat my trip photos with DxO FilmPack 4 (60+ authentic film renderings) and take my photos to Negatif + in Paris to get them developed in an 8x10cm format with white border. It's really cool to get to go and pick up my photos like older days! No matter how many photos I may take on a trip, I limit myself to about 75 photos per trip - and it only costs around $15, so it's not breaking the bank. I had to force myself to do this, because let's face it, NONE of our friends want to come over our house and look at the photos on a computer. The physical copy is just more exciting to see, and they're so small that I always have a few with me to give to friends, etc

Google Picasa is a nice and handy tool for sorting and curating photos. It takes almost no amount of time bringing all your photos into a reasonable order. It's not suitable for professional standards but OK for amateurs.

The biggest issue however is getting all your images safe and secure over a long period of time. That might become the ultimate challenge since without exception any media is prone to decay.

Its important and we forgot about it since facebook and iphone that killed photography as we know it

I don't think it's dead but transformed. In the old days (let's say the 70's and 80s), putting photos in an album was a way to preserve them and keep them from being lost. As such, we'd put everything in there whether they were the best or the worst of the pictures. Now days, we have the luxury of only selecting the best pictures so if we do make an album, it knocks people's socks off (well, for people who care about the subjects).

I shoot weddings professionally and what I decided to do to make me more unique in the marketplace is to create a photo book (it's an album, but it's actually printed and bound by the photo lab instead of assembled into a big leather book) for my clients. Lots of people's jaws drop at the quality and how awesome it is that they will receive a gorgeous keepsake of their big day to share for generations. It's a service I wish if had for my own wedding, but most of my wedding photos were unfortunately barely good enough to print. I really think there is something extremely special about a print, and I think that if people go to good quality labs instead of drug stores, they'll understand the magic!

Spy Black's picture

I think the overwhelming amount of images each person takes, along with modern ADD culture, means that shot you took a while back you might not care for anymore, and you simply delete it from your phone/computer/etc. Images have no lasting value when they're not given the time to develop (if you will) a precious time capsule of a moment. Nowadays pictures also compete with video for that time capsule.

All the reason why photography is now in the hands of the phone companies. I bet you Samsung and apple do more for photography than nikon or canon combine

I still make albums and scrapbooks and hang my photographs in my home. There's something very special about it that I just love.

We make prints about every three months. My daughter loves going through the photos. I personally like having prints, because it helps change the decore and the house looks up to date. Given that I can manage to take up to 5000 photos in that amount of time, i make it easy, by simply printing the ones i took the time out to edit. It's something i look forward to.