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.