The obsolescence of family photo albums

One of my projects for the year is to digitise my “photo albums”.

Like many people of my generation I still have genuine photo prints from the analogue childhood days, along with school class photos and others received from friends and family through the post. These were stuck into carefully assembled photo albums.

Then there’s the proverbial shoe box full of other random pictures that never made it into photo albums — not to mention slides, negatives, and CD-ROMs from when photo labs started to give you image files instead of the negatives from a roll of film. Everybody has photographs of some sort and in some form(at) stashed away somewhere.

The time has come to finally digitise and consolidate the lot.

The latter half will be a wild ride down memory lane; and I’m almost done with the first part: a weighty pile of time consuming tedium that’s keeping the scanner well exercised!

Come to think of it, it was only in the year 1999 that I decided to create a proper set of photo albums and, to be honest, I don’t remember where exactly I kept the photo prints that I had taken with my own first camera — because it certainly wasn’t in the official family photo albums.

Ah, the family photo albums! Those archivists of activities, those precious nuggets of nostalgia, those reminders of bad haircuts and even worse fashion sense that were cause for much delight when the parents had visitors over and they all gushed over pictures of babies of strangers whom they’ve never met and places nobody barely remembers. Family photos cover the spectrum from braggery from the curator’s perspective to voyeurism on the viewer’s part.

Every picture tells a story, and photo albums have volumes to babble on about.

While there are no critically important pictures here, they are nonetheless glorious in their dullness. In a sense then, it’s a form of archaeology that lists the detritus of beauty, boredom, travel, companionship, innocence, youth, pride and participation.

Custodians of our collective cognisance, they all but fell into a state of neglect after my mother’s passing; like vultures my sister and I descended into these holy hallows of Hönigsperger history only to reshape their contents into our own individual narratives.

Instead of using the more common photo album types (like the typical ones with adhesive pages and a clear plastic laminate) I wanted to keep mine flexible in case I needed to add or remove photos or completely redesign entire pages later. Photos were glued to A4-size card stock, inserted into document sleeves and kept in plain four-ring binders.

Photos of our trip to the Technik Museum Speyer

And so, each year I would revise the previous year’s photos, pick and print out the best ones, assemble them on paper and add a year’s worth of new pages into identical ring binders. This design was practical in that not only could they store photos (and the obligatory hand-written comments) but also pamphlets, tickets and other memorabilia — very much like a scrapbook.

Every photo is a trophy to proclaim, “Look everyone, I was here!”

Photo of our Y2K party trip to Hout Bay

By about 2008 we had no analogue cameras in active use. Digital compact cameras gradually gave way to smartphones, and, ironically, as the quality of their photos, in turn, increased, the amount sent off to be printed on paper decreased. The last entries to the photo albums were made for 2012. It’s clear where this was headed.

Although family photos are one of the first things you’d rescue from a burning house, these are now deliberately getting destroyed lest they turn up in other strangers’ collections.

All photos via

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