Monday, September 14, 2015

Save Your Photos #14 of 30. Tell the Stories!

I don't watch a lot of TV shows.  But one show I happen to enjoy is the American Pickers.  If you aren't familiar with that show, it's about two guys, Mike Wolfe and Frank Fretz, from Iowa who drive around the USA in a big van searching down bits of rusty, historical antiques that they buy from people and re-sell to other people.  They do this out of both a desire for profitable commerce and a personal passion for preservation.  They love the old stuff that is no longer manufactured.  

However, what can increase an item in value is if the seller has a personal story that goes along with the item.  I have seen an object double or triple in value if there is a verifiable or personal story that can be essentially sold along with the piece.  I believe this is the same with photos.

Hereto is a comparison two types of photo albums, one plain (photos only, no words) and the other journaled (stories that accompany the photos).

For about a decade I hosted album making workshops in my home at least once each month.  At these occasions, I'd setup work tables, trashcans, provide food and beverages and invite over those women (though through the years we had a few men) who wished to create photo albums and tell their family stories.  Years of observation taught me the importance of story telling with regards to ones photos.

It always took the first half hour of the workshop for people to settle in, unpack their belongings and greet their friends.  Early conversations of the evening often included the sharing of the photos that would be worked into an album. 

Seatmates were seen holding piles of their photos and flipping through the pictures of vacations, birthdays, etc...  of the other women seated at their table.  This was a time of lots of discussion and verbalization.  Rarely did the looker know what was occurring in the photos.  There was always the need to ask questions, beg explanations and loads of stories were shared.  Whereas this is never a bad thing, to socialize over a stack of snapshots, it was something that required a lot of verbal explanations so that the viewer knew exactly what stories the photos were wanting to depict.

Often these discussions assisted the album maker in determining what needed to be written, explained and related on an album page accompanying the photos.  Sometimes the album maker asked questions of the tablemates wondering if the explanation was clear or if more details needed to be added.  There was a great amount of information sharing.  I knew it to be true that some people took vacations to spots they had first discovered when looking at someone else's photos.

Photos and stories accompanied one another in the albums these women created.

Other times I'd see someone at a friend's house flipping through a photo album with only pictures, no words or "journaling."  There was rarely discussion if the album owner wasn't seated right next to the album viewer in order to offer explanations. Basically, the viewer wasn't as interested in the photos because they were sure of what they were looking at.  They might not know where the photos were taken or what the occasion was.  Without this additional information, the album was sometimes quickly put down before the viewer had finished looking all the way to the end.

Now, the reason I notices this happening is because I looked for it.  Always.  I was constantly trying to convince myself that the workshop time I provided for the women who came to my house to make photo albums was necessary and important.  I wanted to know that the time I spent opening my home to them was worthwhile, and thus, seeing the way a "plain" album was viewed as opposed to a "storied" album, I validated that a photo album that also contained stories and titles and captions held more interest to the viewer.

I have come to firmly believe - though I can still only offer it as an opinion based on personal observations - that telling stories to accompany a photo is the way to make the photo truly live on into the future.  The photos alone without the stories behind them are often just empty pictures of faces of unknown people - or at least they are at risk of being such to the future generations that encounter them. 

One of the most difficult things for me in my job as a personal photo organizer is when a family wishes to have me custom design a photo album for them that contains no stories, titles, or captions.  These clean, modern albums are beautiful - and certainly easier for me to design than ones that require me to spend hours adding a client's verbage to the album in written form.  So I design albums any way a client requests, but I'm always happy to spend as much time getting a cleint's stories presented in an album, regardless of how much editing it might require, as I do designing how the photos looks on the page.

If creating a photo album on your own is too overwhelming or you feel you don't have the time or the skill or even the desire to learn how to make one, a personal photo organizer can custom design one specifically for you - typically, they design albums according to your style preferences.  I love creating custom albums for families - if you need help creating one, contact me.


  1. One of the most well written pieces about why we do what we do - thanks.

  2. Thanks Jenny for your kind words!


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