The obsolescence of family photo albums

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

Like many people from my generation, I still have genuine photo prints from the analogue childhood days, along with school class photos and those received from friends and family through the post. These are 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 later 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 2000 that I decided to create photo albums of my own and, to be honest, I don’t remember where exactly I stored 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, these 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 the babies of strangers whom I’ve never met. Family photos cover the spectrum from braggartism 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.

These custodians of our collective cognisance 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 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, early each year I’d revise the previous year’s photos, pick and print out the best ones, assemble them on paper and add new pages into identical ring binders. This design was practical in that they could store not only 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.

Even Flickr gradually went to the dogs, and my interest in sharing photos online waned. The final straw came in 2016 when Panoramio was shut down.

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 hmvhDOTnet.

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