Thursday, January 27, 2011

Winter Projects: Photograph Albums


Do you have several messy, disorganized boxes of old family photos that desperately need to be sorted, labeled, annotated, documented, and put in nice acid-free albums? I do!

Is your laptop full of new pictures you've offloaded from your digital camera? Are those pictures sorted, labeled, or backed up onto another computer, onto CDs or memory sticks? Are your relatives anxiously waiting for pictures of your children because they haven't gotten any in several months?

Winter is an excellent time to get your photograph albums in order. There isn't any beautiful sunny weather outside to distract you. Long dark winter nights lend themselves to beautifully creative projects. You can even sort photographs while you watch TV and movies, listen to music or visit with friends.


Your photograph albums are a gift to your future family members (even ones you haven't met yet), and to current family members who are very young right now. When you're long gone, your nieces, nephews, grandchildren, and cousins will be able to document their family history in part because of your albums. It's especially important to label photos with names, dates and locations, because someday you'll forget, or you won't be around to tell people that important info.

This blog post is certainly not the place to go into all the technical aspects of photo preservation (Acid-free paper, not using magnetic photo albums, acid-free inks, not writing on the back of photos with ballpoint pens, etc), but the Internet has a wealth of information on that topic.


For my fellow shopaholics who read this blog, I implore you to try to avoid using photo storage and preservation as an excuse to buy more stuff. You probably already have a few archival quality photo albums and photo storage boxes around the house as it is. Wait until those are filled before buying others. You'll spend too much time and money if you allow yourself to go shopping for photograph albums and supplies. Instead, just sit down and get to work with what you have!

Don't fall into the trap of wanting all your photo storage boxes and photo albums to match, either. If you're buying one or two boxes at a time, even if you go back to the same store next year, you might not be able to find the same exact kind of box. So what. Let it go, and spend your time worrying about actually sorting your photos.


I personally do not scrapbook my photos. I think scrapbooks have a very low ratio of photos-to-pages. If I'm going to have several big, bulky albums physically taking up room on my bookshelves, I want them to hold lots and lots of photos. Not two or three on a page, surrounded by a bunch of cute stickers. I'm thinking that scrapbooking should be done with duplicate pictures, not single originals.

I'd personally rather have a well put together album with typed documentation next to each photo. Who are the people in the photo, when and where was the photo taken, what was the occasion? Any other pertinent information could be on a small typed white card. Although purists scream at the thought of writing on the backs of photos, even with archival inks, I tend to want to do that on every one in case they ever, in the distant future, fall out of their albums or get separated from their card.


Both my grandmothers are already gone, and for the past few years they had already forgotten many of the names and faces on our oldest family photos. I need to sit down with my grandfather and ask him who all the people in those black-and-white pictures from the 1930s are. We'll write them on the back (with the correct kind of archival pen!) and add a documentation card to the album too.


Come up with a sorting system that makes sense for you. For me, I can't throw a bunch of photos all over a room and sort them over the next few weeks. My cats would ruin the pictures, they'd get stepped on, and I'd miss the use of my living room. So I'm sorting photos first into individual boxes by person or by era (1930s, 1940s, etc). Next I will move the photos into albums in the coming days. That way I can keep everything, including the smaller photo boxes, in a couple large Sterilite boxes. This keeps them all together, and I can haul them out every time I can grab a couple uninterrupted hours to sort. Which isn't very often!


Probably people younger than me don't have a bunch of physical photo albums laying around. Lately all the pictures I take are digital, so I'm archiving them on multiple computers and in CD folders. But I do tend to print out a lot of pictures so I can frame them and look at them around the house. I also prefer looking at photos together with family sitting on the couch flipping through albums, rather than huddled around a laptop to stare at the screen.

Give your family the gift of memories. Sort and store your photos properly, then go out and have fun taking lots of new pictures!

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