This precious album was made by my Great Aunt Thyra, and includes photos sent to her by my Grandma (captioned in her hand.) The spread features images from 1922, when they were both young, newly married and evidently (from the looks of things) enjoying a healthy social life.
The book has been well-loved. It shows normal wear and tear but, aside from the fading and the fashions the album itself could have been assembled yesterday. Its black paper pages with handwritten captions are a classic.
Spending time in family history has helped me identify some parameters and elements of style that I want to keep in mind as I craft my own album pages.
These are the lessons I've gleaned:
1) Words matter
Even a simple caption can reveal so much about the photo's subject and its author. In the antique album above, it's clear that my Grandma and Great Aunt shared a great sense of humor. One picture of three large women in swimsuits was captioned "2,000 lbs. = 1 ton." Another image of the three, conterpart men read: "Fat between the lean." "Four Chicago aristocrats" was written above another picture of cousins who had moved. Humor revealed. Love it.
2) Hand lettering is best
To read the hand-written notes or recognize a distinct penmanship of a close family member no longer living is like seeing a little bit of them again; as though we reconnect with them, quite literally. I recently told someone that I am learning to like my own penmanship, but the fact is, it doesn't matter whether I like it or not. Somebody who loves me likes it and will love seeing it when I am gone.
3) Simplicity = timelessness
There is merit in keeping close to classic forms when organizing memories for storytelling. I'd like to think that 85 years from now someone might look through the stories I am capturing today and feel that same sense of timelessness. I want that person to feel as though it might be them posing with friends, or showering love on their own small child, so that we might through generations, share these universal relational emotions. I think some color, pattern, or texture is okay as long as it enhances the story, maintains the focus and preserves the message. After all, this is 2007, not 1922, and we live in color; not black and white.
4) I'm more than the narrator
One of my Aunt's albums contained some pictures of an old boyfriend. Since she never married, this was a part of her life I was always curious about. With no comments on her pages she leaves me still wondering. I want to share my thinking on my pages and my interpretations as well as the subject matter. These are my memories after all, and one can only operate from their own perspective. I like thinking of my pages as little love letters. Who doesn't enjoy reading love letters?
[ Me and Dad on a family hike. Where? When? ]
5) Identify surroundings, time and place
Okay, this one's obvious. While looking at a group of pictures from a family hike, my Mom was hard pressed to remember where exactly we were that autumn day. I think the bigger picture here might be simply that we were a family who did take hikes together, but it would be nice to know where and when too. I know I am completely guilty of setting pictures aside for notes later on which never happen. Something to work on.
[ * Mac McCarthy, with his band, The Men About Town. ]
6) Include programs and ephemera
My father's album (made by my Grandma) was more of a true book of scraps, containing clippings, autographs, dance cards and promotional pieces from performances. So much was revealed to me in these small bits. This young man was literally a person that I did not know. I learned that he was among the top young musicians in Western PA at the time. He played for a "youth social" while home on leave from Italy during WWII. I didn't even know he had ever visited Italy. I found postcards from the Hospital ship on which he was stationed. Very telling. Very enlightening. It doesn't all have to be archival.
7) leave pictures alone
I loved seeing not only how we all used to dress at family Christmas parties, but little things in the background like my Grandparents' wallpaper pattern and the make-shift hutch (was that linoleum on top?) in their kitchen. Or on summer beachy weekends the way it was grassy and lush before we made our way down to the sandy dunes. These things are more than just backgrounds, they are part of the overall story. Going forward, I want to be respectful of the whole story. Don't close-crop out the good stuff.
I'm sure there's more, but for now, I've got some guidelines for myself from which to operate.
It's interesting that I never considered myself a "scrapbooker" and still am somehow resistant to that term. But how can one love photos and stories and family without a desire to organize it all.
Evidently this type of thinking is in my genes. My my Aunt Patti is an amazing story-writer, full of the same humor as her own mother. On visits to their home as a child I marveled at the albums of my cousin Crissy. I guess I'm just a late bloomer once again. Also, my tendency toward perfectionism doesn't help. You cannot have it all figured out before you jump in. You have to start somewhere and just GO.
This research has helped me understand myself, my goals and my personal approach better. I think that's the whole idea of memory keeping: helping not only to understand ourselves, but for our children to know, and theirs to come.
I feel good about the layouts I'm working on now with these goals in mind on which to build.
I'll share some here soon.