On family photo books and posterity

So I was browsing blogrolls the other day, and came across the question, “Have you ever wondered how to take your photo books from blah to great?”   Well, no, can’t say I have.

But hey, more power to her.  Some families are more into photo albums and photos more generally than others.  And hers definitely look great.  We’re so far in the other  direction that we didn’t even hire a wedding photographer.

We have an album from our wedding that my MIL made. NOBODY LOOKS AT IT. It will probably be looked at again if/when our children get married. Or have to do a school project that requires pictures of us. Maybe it will bring us solace in our old age, I dunno.  Does anybody ever look at wedding photo albums after the first year of marriage?  (Not counting the obligatory wedding day photo that all my male colleagues have next to their computer monitors.)

Every once and a while my MIL clears out her stuff and sends us a ton of old pictures that she took for posterity but no longer wants around her house, because photos are really best enjoyed in small quantities.  Maybe three years ago she sent us a huge amount of pictures from our wedding that didn’t make it into the album.  We’ve got those too.  I don’t think we’re ever going to organize them.

We take pictures, though not as many as a lot of families, and I like having them electronic.  We’ve occasionally crafted picture calendars as Christmas presents for the grandparents, though currently my SIL has declared that to be her thing.  I also like having pictures date-stamped because it makes it easier to tell who (DC1 and DC2 look remarkably alike) and when and so on.  That hurts their potential as works of art, but helps in the posterity realm.

I value the ancient photo album that some ancestor of mine put together, with my grandmother showing up only as a baby.  And it was neat to flip through old pictures of my parents a few times when I was a kid.  We’re also the keeper of DH’s grandma’s old family album, possibly because we would ask her about her genealogy work before she had to downsize.  My in-laws’ current decoration scheme is family pictures (and every time we visit, we get formal pictures done of the entire extended family), so I know very well what my DH and his family looked like as children.

But I don’t think we need a photo book or album for every year or every event or whatever.  As a side-note: I had an ex-boyfriend whose mom had decorated with every single one of his formal school pictures (framed) in order in a line around her living room.  That felt like overkill, even just showing pre-K through 12.

So, I dunno, I guess our immediate family is sparse with the pictures (unlike, say, DH’s family).  We have a few here and there and not all of them are presents made at school or framed gifts from the in-laws (though admittedly, most of them are).  And we’ve got electronic pictures on the internet that are backed up occasionally, and hard-copy photos from the in-laws and from various school pictures.  In theory it would be nice to have one picture album, say, documenting our marriage and our children’s entire childhood.  Maybe DC1 or DC2 can put one of those together in a decade or two.  Then we can show it to their potential significant others and their future children.  More than that might take up too much valuable shelf space.

Where are you on the photo album continuum?

48 Responses to “On family photo books and posterity”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    I always feel guilt for not having ore photos and video of the kids. My older son used to love watching videos so himself when he was younger. Now, it seems that whenever I am in the mood to take a video the batteries are dead. I do like looking at old photos but less is more. You don’t need 1000 baby pic items of one kid, just a handful of the best by year. I don’t even do that though. I was better at it before kids but now I want to enjoy the moment with them instead of documenting every cool thing we do. I do not him kids have the right balance though as I never seem to have re met photos of me or my kids thank god for those school photos. Although horrible, at least I’ll have one per year.

  2. zenmoo Says:

    I’m fairly high on the “photo albums are important ” scale – not for today, but for my far into the future enjoyment.

    Several of my elderly relatives have ended up with dementia and having photo albums to look at together made visiting them in nursing homes much easier. (Once my Dad’s relatives hit 90 they all seemed to get the garden variety poor short-term memory version of dementia – not the Alzheimer’s not knowing who you are type)

    Also, even for today, my grandmother now who is pretty well all there mentally but increasingly physically frail at 90 really enjoys looking at photos of the things we do and places we’ve been recently. It gives us something to talk about that is less distressing than some of her memories of World War 2 (she was in the British army on anti-aircraft guns & on the continent for the liberation) & her early days in Australia (when her in-laws were pretty horrible to her). These seem to surface more frequently the older she gets. So if I can distract her with an album from our latest trip / random event, it’s a valuable win.

  3. Practical Parsimony Says:

    I have a wedding album that means nothing to me. But, my children will appreciate it some day. Actually, they would now. But, I will keep it rather than giving it to only one of the three. Maybe I can scan it and send it to them. For the first 18 months of my son’s life, I actually put photos in an album. Then, I became pregnant and never put anything in an album. My older daughter was bemoaning the fact she never put any pictures in an album. I assured her I never put many pictures in albums. However, I do put the name and date on the back before I throw them in a box, something my mother never did.

    My daughter put 12 x 16 studio photos of her son on her living room wall. It looked like a shrine to him. Now, she does the same thing with the daughter. I think that is bizarre. I do have all sorts of photos, some one-hundred-years old, on the wall and on tables. Actually, the oldest pictures are 125-years old and all relatives I never knew, of course. The pictures on the table are of my family (one) and of my children when they were small and some in high school. I really love pictures. They are of high importance to me. Wishing I had them in albums is one of my top wishes.

    Scrapbooking is a horrid waste of time, resources, and energy.

    Zenmoo,
    I never thought of albums as tools for dementia patients or entertainment for the elderly. .

    • zenmoo Says:

      It’s so helpful to have photos to prompt different stories. For example, It’s really hard to come up with conversation topics with my grandmother now because she doesn’t get out much. If I don’t come prepared she’ll start talking about something terrible in the newspaper or how girls these days dress indecently etc. we’re both happier looking at photos of my daughter at the playground or photos of her trips with my grandfather.

    • Rosa Says:

      I have a wedding album from my divorced parents wedding that I really don’t want and don’t know what to do with. Nobody else wants it either but I don’t feel like I can throw it away. I will probably scan the photos someday? Basically nobody looks happy in it so it’s just a record of all the uncomfortable family relationships plus some lovely fashions of the time.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I have that album too! Although everyone looks happy, but it was soooo long ago, and certainly neither of my parents wants it! But I can’t throw it away because my grandmother gave it to me, and also, it’s my PARENTS! So, I dunno. Perhaps one day I’ll get rid of it or scan it, but until then, I have room to carry it around.

  4. Holly@ClubThrifty Says:

    My one and only scrapbook is of our wedding. It cost a fortune to make with all the different kinds of paper, cut-outs, and stickers, and it wasn’t really that fun.
    Now all of our pictures are of Greg and the kids because I am the only one who actually takes pictures! And I usually end up deleting any pictures Greg happens to take of me because most of them are unflattering. With that being said, we are having professional photos done in a few weeks! I asked to be airbrushed heavily because they are for our new website design and Christmas cards. One thing I really hate is trying to find coordinating outfits for professional pictures- I am terrible at it!

  5. Sapience Says:

    My parents (my mom especially) were high on the photobook’s importance. They have tons of them. They have all those formal portraits of me and my sister marching down the wall of the stairs. Me, not so much–I have one picture each of my parents visible in the house, and all my other photos are of landscapes or flowers or things like that.

    That said, I am a huge fan of the electronic photobook, whenever I remember to take photographs at all. I have a good chunk of my photos up on Facebook, and I find myself going back and browsing those fairly regularly.

  6. Chelsea Says:

    I have lots of pictures on my computer and phone, though I’m trying to start deleting the ones that are terrible. I’ve never had any interest in doing scrapbooking, but I did pay to have someone make one with my son’s first year, and I really enjoy looking at it from time to time. I’d actually love to have a “family highlights of the year” book for each year as long as I didn’t have to be the one to put it together. We have some but not a ton of family pictures on the walls. It’s really just a collection of 5×7’s of various family members confined to a section on the upstairs hallway wall near our bedroom. Definitely not into the “huge portraits covering every surface” look.

  7. gwinne Says:

    Your post and these responses are making me feel better.

    I really like looking at old photos (like the ones of my mom when she was little, or my siblings and I) so I’m trying to keep decent albums for my kids. But Tiny Boy is almost three and I have stacks of photos that haven’t yet been organized (basically everything after his birth). I try to make shutterfly books when they’re free, but I often have a time crunch and can’t get them done in that window.

    And for as much as I like looking at videos of the kids, I’d rather be IN THE MOMENT than documenting, so I’m not one of those watching a school play through an iPad camera.

  8. Rosa Says:

    The thing I wish I had more of is audio. I love the few audio files I have of my kid singing or reading aloud when he was younger. But every time he caught me recording, he stopped! So at least that one’s not on me.

    I am another mom who feels kind of bad about not taking more photos or video. It’s half of why I got a smart phone – so I would have the camera handy.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      One of my aunts has old (silent) family videos from my mom’s family from the 1950s. That is pretty darn cool. But I’ve only seen them once– at a family reunion backw hen I was 7 years old!

      • Rosa Says:

        we have audiotapes that were mailed back and forth between my family and a great-aunt when I was little. So they are either my elderly great aunt talking, or my mom trying to talk while me & my toddler brother interrupt, make messes, and generally destroy the house around her. Only a few though – they thriftily recorded over them each use. And books on tape my mom recorded for me when I was around that age – audio of classic picture books in my mom’s voice.

  9. Cloud Says:

    I have only ever made one scrapbook, which was of our wedding and honeymoon. My kids LOVE to pull it out and look at it. I realized when I was about halfway in that scrapbooking is not for me. We have physical albums from our travels before the we went all digital. After going all digital, my husband took over main ownership of organizing the photos, and does “photo essays” in a web format he developed. I find it really helpful to refer back to them, both to remind myself about specifics of post trips, and to reminisce happily. He also does more general everyday photo essays, primarily of the kids. Since he’s gotten a bit slow on these, I’ve also started uploading a smaller subset to Flickr to share w/family and friends. We’re not on Facebook, and the grandparents like a constant supply of photos.

    I am not personally into scrapbooking or the like, but I see it as a hobby like any other. I.e., it is not better or worse than blogging, or videogames, or any other activity that we do in our free time.

    Also, when I was a young adult (sometime in my 20s), my mom gave me a scrapbook she made showing pictures of my family as far back as we have them (to my great-great-grandparents, I think) and including my school pictures and some of her favorite pictures from my childhood. I love that book, and so do my kids.

    So I guess I fall somewhere in the middle on the spectrum. The only thing I’d really urge people to do is make sure they have their photos backed up somewhere offsite. This is easy to do now with so many cloud backup options. We just include them in our general backups. I know people who have lost large amounts of photos due to a computer failure, and they were pretty devastated.

  10. Linda Says:

    Maybe it’s because one of you moved recently that we’re sort of thinking of the same topics these days! (I’m still digesting yesterday’s password post since I need to figure out a new password option at some point.)

    Actual physical photos are such a PITA to deal with. I have too many that I’ve been sorting through and trying to figure out what gets tossed and what gets saved. My ex was here over the weekend and I pulled out the large bag of photos from our years together so we could decide which to keep. Yeah, despite being married for 11 years I never did anything with the wedding photos (which were done by a photographer from a local art school so we had all the photos and negatives, unlike the usual wedding photography scam) or honeymoon photos or any other photos we took during vacations and such. We basically decided to try to get them scanned. I sent the bag home with him and told him to take that project over and to tell me how much it would cost so I could reimburse him.

    I just don’t enjoy creating scrapbooks or photo albums, although I did enjoy looking at those photos. While electronic photos are easier to store, you have to add metadata and arrange them in albums, too. Which I’ve only done minimally, of course. I don’t take a lot of photos unless I’m on vacation, so no big deal.

    I have some albums my mom gave me with very old photos with family members somewhat identified. I guess I’m going to pack them and bring them with me, although I feel they should be in better order or shape. I just can’t bring myself to throw out old photos of my grandmother and great aunts, etc.

    I’m trying to figure out what to do with my high school yearbooks, too. I think that’s somewhat related to this conversation and would love to hear what others did with theirs.

  11. Norwegian Forest Cat Says:

    My dad’s parents had photo albums documenting birthdays and weddings of all 5 of their boys, and those albums and their yearbooks were absolutely awesome to look at with the whole family. It’s fun to go back and look at them when they were the same age as some of the cousins–you sure can tell that they’re related! My mom has photo albums of my brother and me when we were kids and drug it out to show my SO when he came back with me for a visit, but I don’t have a ton of photos from my life these days. I’d rather live it than spend my time taking pictures!

    I still have my yearbooks and lots of old photos, but they’re in boxes, not easily accessible. I imagine that I’ll do some pretty basic documentation if/when I ever spawn–birthdays, special events, etc. But I really can’t handle documenting every second of my life or thinking about how I need to take a picture of ____ right now because it/he/she is just the _____est. It’s probably better that way, or it would be way more obvious how much I love my cat. :)

  12. Tragic Sandwich Says:

    For a while, I was really into scrapbooking. I was never very good at it (I am not a designer, and my scrapbooks are part of my portfolio of not-design), and it was expensive.

    Then I realized that my mom’s scrapbooking consisted of scrapbooks, photos, tickets/theater programs/articles/etc., and a pen. And I have never thought, “Wow, this is okay, but I wish she’d used fancy paper and some stickers.” So I went back to that, which was cheaper and faster.

    I also have tried creating digital photobooks online. Even with those, it is clear that I am not a designer. And in some ways, they’re easier. But whether I create them online or put prints into a book, the real issue is the same: photo editing. That takes both time and space I don’t have.

    So while I do enjoy it, particularly now that I’ve set my expectations at a reasonable level, I am several years behind. Add to that the photos I inherited from my mother, who apparently abandoned scrapbooking in the late 70s but kept taking pictures, and the generations of photos I inherited from other family members, and I am actually several decades behind.

  13. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    “As a side-note: I had an ex-boyfriend whose mom had decorated with every single one of his formal school pictures (framed) in order in a line around her living room.”

    That is seriously disturbing.

  14. chacha1 Says:

    Back when the husband and I were not yet married, I started hoarding little bits and pieces (and pictures) thinking I would do scrapbooks one day. It was clear to me from the start that this was going to be the most special relationship I’d ever had. And I did kind of do scrapbooks for the first 10 years or so! But they were not very aesthetically pleasing, I found that we really never looked through them, and after ten years … we are talking Volume. Plus then I’d gotten a digital camera and started going nuts with that when we traveled (though I did actually start to get pretty good at photography, so there’s that).

    Long story short, last year I bought a flatbed scanner and started scanning everything in. I have an automated online backup and I had realized that we look through pictures on the computer much more readily than in photo books or, god forbid, the scrapbooks (or boxes, which is what I devolved to out of general don’t – wanna).

    I am saving the image scans into folders by year, and what’s fun about it is I can set the computer’s screensaver to scroll through a folder. So we can actually review the stuff without having to do any work at all, which is about perfect for us.

    For anyone who’s interested in this solution, I got an Epson scanner (Perfection V330), which was inexpensive and is easy to use, and if I kill it I will instantly buy another as close to exactly like it as possible.

    We both have some albums, including wedding and honeymoon albums, as well as boxes of pre-digital photos that were never put into albums, and those are also going to get scanned (on a Best Of basis. Not every picture. Yikes).

  15. OMDG Says:

    My husband is really into photography, so we have lots of pictures (of everything) because of that. I kind of like having a yearly photobook to send to the fam, but since he takes the photos and is most into it, he gets to assemble it.

    • Leah Says:

      Yes, I’ve heard of doing a family yearbook each year. I like that idea, so I think that’s what we’ll do. Of course, it takes me just as long to make a digital one as a real scrapbook. One of my friends is a SAHM and does hers a page or two at a time, all year long, and that works well for her.

  16. Good Enough Professor Says:

    I was an only child with an extensively documented childhood. My parents divorced when I was in college and my father opened up all the loose-leaf photo binders, removed half the pages from each, and boxed them up with the rest of the stuff my mother wanted to take with her. Both collections of disassembled photo-album-pages became mine again after their deaths. And then all the relatives to whom my mother had mailed photos over the years downsized their houses and mailed me envelopes full of duplicate photos. It was not a comforting gesture. Though it was kindly meant, it was also a reminder that the only people who really cared what my childhood had looked like were gone. So I live in a state of photographic chaos that my children occasionally enjoy pawing through. I take photos of my kids every now and then and trust that the record left behind by entropy will be enough for whatever purposes people take photo for.

  17. Cloud Says:

    Oh! I remembered one time it was downright useful to have a well-organized photo album: when we went to get my husband his green card. We took it along as proof that our relationship was real. Not that they quizzed us too hard on that. Mostly, they just wanted to see my tax returns. But they did look at our wedding photos.

  18. hush Says:

    Does anybody ever look at wedding photo albums after the first year of marriage?

    Yes, we do! We look through our wedding album on our anniversary each year – it’s a fun little tradition. Even the kids have been asking to look at it from time to time in recent years. My kids also enjoy their baby albums very much. My DH is also very into pictures (because: his own childhood pain. There are only 5 pictures of him as a child.)

  19. MutantSupermodel Says:

    It depends on my mood. I have always loved photos. I always enjoyed looking at photos as a kid, I enjoyed taking them, and I have enjoyed making scrapbooks back when it was all the rage, and I have put together photo books.

    What I am really odd about is little tiny things. Like, I have a collection of hatboxes and they are filled with different… things. Photos yes but also drawings and tickets and napkins and notes and cards all kinds of randomnes. I go through them every few years and get rid of stuff that has lots its meaning but I like to see those things. I dunno. I’m a weirdo. But Andy Warhol was more of a weirdo in this respect so that makes me happy: http://www.npr.org/2013/11/02/242174661/dead-bees-nail-clippings-and-priceless-art-in-warhols-time-capsules

    I have used photos to make gifts and those have been appreciated. I dunno. I think photos are generally more appreciated by others than ourselves if that makes any sense…

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      It does make sense. I too have collected tickets, programs, notes, etc., but over time have winnowed significantly over many moves. I call it the emotional statute of limitations. Sometimes you’re just not ready to get rid of things… until one day you are. Can’t be rushed.

  20. Revanche Says:

    I’ve always hated clutter but photos made the grade so I’ve got a box of old photos (that I should just go through and toss of people and times that just don’t matter anymore) in addition to the piles of digital pictures.

    When it comes to keeping things, usually I try to be ruthless, but do realize that as the years flee I will wonder WTH I’ve been doing with this life. Did I ever have fun or …? I have a terrible memory. So the “Scrapbook” serves as my memory. Not actual scrapbooking though, I’ve long given up on that. I bought a blank spiral bound notebook for $10 and just paste everything that reminded me of a thing we did in there. Travel for three weeks? Five pages of memorabilia, leaving room for a picture or two.

    PiC is much more into physical photos than I am, and after reeling from the loss of Doggle, I can’t help but be glad I have at least 3000 photos of him. Most will stay digital, some will go into a book. We’ll put our wedding pictures into a photobook, probably because we paid so much for a photographer, I’d bought a voucher, & that was the last time I saw my mom alive. Just keeping a bit of balance between keeping all the things and keeping none of the things.

  21. SP Says:

    I have made them before. One for our wedding, a few just for fun. It has been a few years though – they are a lot of work, in my opinion.

    My sister has 2 kids, and she uses Groove Book to get physical prints from her phone. I think she got a deal where it was almost free. It is nice, because it is dead easy and cheap. It is like having snap shots around to look at, though they are clearly not built to last. The kids enjoy looking through them, and when I visit, I like to see what they’ve been up to. I’d do it myself if I took that many photos!


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