In Defense of Photo Albums

I don’t know of anyone actually attacking photo albums, so the title of this post may be a bit dramatic. But if Target’s tiny selection of physical photo albums is any indication, we’ve moved on to better and brighter things.

Like any newlywed, I waited eagerly to see our wedding photos, and then spent hours organizing them into the modern scrapbook of sorts: a Mixbook compiled from digital photos and then printed and bound, our very own coffee table book. These Mixbooks made great Christmas gifts for our parents, and we have our own that I pull out every few months. Shortly after finishing our wedding album, I resolved to create a Mixbook for each year of marriage. Did this happen? It did not.

Mixbooks simply take too long: choosing the perfect theme, tweaking photo positions and backgrounds, adding quotes and commentaries on each page … not something that slips very easily into my daily routines. And to be quite honest, not much in daily life seems to need “the Mixbook treatment.” Digital scrapbooks are great for telling a story; my husband made a beautiful Mixbook chronicling our honeymoon trip to the UK. Events like trips and weddings have a beginning and end, and they lend themselves to a highly-designed book format.

But what happens to all those other photos we snap throughout the year? I am not content for them to remain cloistered in my smartphone. As I child I enjoyed looking through my parents’ photo albums from before they even met each other. I loved seeing pictures of their early married life too—from a new townhouse to the new kitten I would meet years later. Sometimes there were Polaroid snapshots with a brief note on the bottom, but most of the time there were just prints slid into plastic sleeves. Occasionally I looked through these pictures with my parents, but most of the time I was on my own. I’d slide the albums back onto the shelf when I was finished and go back to the life that revolved around me. But those albums silently reminded me not only of my family history, but that my parents enjoyed life and each other even before I arrived.

I don’t want to hand our kids a smartphone one day and say, “Here, look through these pictures.” I want us to have albums on shelves. Most of them won’t be beautifully designed Mixbooks, though some will. Thanks to Target I now have two photo books with plastic sleeves to hold regular old 4×6 prints. I like these albums because they are forgiving: all I have to do is actually get some photos printed now and again. And that means I need to pay attention to what I want to remember.

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