In the parlor of my great aunt Nora’s house there was a glass curio cabinet. It held knick-knacks from her life, momentos of her past, and photographs from days that seemed impossibly long ago to me when I was all of 8 or 10 years old. On one of the shelves in that cabinet was a picture frame holding a slightly yellowed black and white photo of her younger brother Daniel. He stood tall and proud wearing the uniform of the Saskatchewan Light Infantry. I’m not sure how old he was in that photo, but he died in Sicily in 1943 when he was 23 years old, a victim of the war that tore holes in so many families. Every time we would visit my great aunt’s house in that little Saskatchewan farm town I would seek out that photo of the young man and stare at it trying to imagine what he was like and the trials he had experienced as a soldier.
That photo had a profound effect on me. It is probably one of the reasons I decided to study History at university. While I was interested in the causes and effects of events in history on our society, I was always more intrigued with the imagery of what ever time period I was studying. Maybe that was the photographer in me trying to get out, or more likely my overactive imagination trying to envision what it was like to be alive in that time period. What ever it was that photo of Daniel was a direct connection of my life to something monumental that happened 25 years before I was born.
I bet you are asking yourself right now “What does all this have to do with photography and book making? Has Derrick gone off on one of his nonsensical tangents again?” Trust me, I can connect the dots. You see, while digital cameras are amazing inventions, allowing us to take thousand and thousands more photos than we ever would have with film, the vast majority of us never have those photos printed out. They sit on hard drives waiting for the technology that keeps them safe to fail, to be lost forever. There is no doubt about it. Hard drives have a finite lifespan, and when yours dies your memories, or at least the visual records of your memories, die with it. I’m like most people. I rarely have anything printed, but I do try to make books of my favorite images. Sometimes the books are little annuals, a collection of images from a particular year, but usually these books are based on specific trips.
This past week I have been using my spare time to layout two books of our recent family trip to England. It got me reflecting on the trip, but also on the family story we were creating. I am making the books because I want a visual record, a photo album of sorts like our Moms and grandmothers used to put together. Sure it may be a bit fancier, but it is a record that can be passed around and handed down. My kids can use it to show to their kids and their grandchildren what things looked like in our time, and tell them their stories. The photos and the books are more than the 1’s and 0’s recorded by the camera and stored on the computer. They are something tangible that you can hold and flip through and that perhaps could one day be sitting in a family library like the ones we toured in England. That is a lofty thought, but I hope that one day, like Great Uncle Daniel’s photo, they will cause some future descendant to imagine what it was like to live in our time and to feel some sort of connection to their own family story. Without printing our photos and making books, we risk abandoning our own visual connection to this period of history, and my personal fear is that our stories will be lost.
The problem with my whole train of thought on this is that my books have way more “artsy” shots than family photos. Perhaps eventually I will include more stories to go with the photos so that we don’t have to rely on faded memories to explain the images. For now though I will settle for printing up another holiday book or two to show off to family and friends and to pass on to the kids one day.
Below are are a few of the pages from the two books I have been working on.
After experiencing a rather large bill from my usual printing company (MyPublisher – based only in the US and thus subject to exchange rates and duties), I have switched to one I have only used a few times before (Blurb) which does shipping from Toronto for Canadian customers. The book on London I made directly in Adobe Lightroom’s book making tab. I found that it worked well but the layouts offered were limiting, so the book on Cornwall and Devon was laid out in Indesign which gave me full control over the pages. It takes a little bit longer this way and any spacing issues are my own fault, but I prefer the control I have over the book.
It really doesn’t matter how you do it. Whether you make a photo book or just go to Costco to have your images printed, my advice to you is that you get it done. Preserve those memories, and have something to pass around for years to come.