Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Tales of family life : A legacy of photography albums

Today's blog is a special blog in association with a group of talented photographers from around the globe.  We have each written about what the printed image means to us - read on to learn more.

I grew up with images of my family all around me.  My Dad was a keen amateur photographer and took lots of pictures of our family - births, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, christenings,  school photos, all the usual family get togethers, holidays and of course Christmas.  Christmas was always special in our house - both my dad and I had our birthdays on December 29th so by the end of December the house was always overloaded with Christmas and Birthday cards and as my brother and I got older the family was soon overloaded with family albums and scrapbooks!

Dressing up was always a favourite past-time, a trait inherited by my son!

With the advent of digital photography like many people we loved the idea of saving images on computer - so much easier for viewing, sharing and storing - no more shelves bending under the strain of family albums or running out of space to put them.  How naive we were!

In the recorder club at junior school @1977 
(I'm back row, far right for the eagle eyed. And yes Diane Turner - you're in there too!)

Technology certainly is a powerful tool and gives us control how we view the world.  But this is nothing new – In the early days of photography having your photo taken was a new and exciting technology, but customers would have to sit still for some time to avoid movement blur on the resulting photograph. Today we can fire off huge numbers of images in a matter of seconds.  My family have always been great at recording family photographs and as such there is a long legacy of family history that is shared through each new generation.  

Look at that pram!  My Christening day from the 1960's being pushed by one of my
 Godparents, Mum and second Godparent following behind

I have an album of my grandfathers parents when they were young – people I have never met and know little about.  Is there a value in this?  Certainly many social historians would think so – it tells us so much about that time in the 19th century (– yes I did say 19th century!) And for me?  Well they still have story to tell and this is what albums do. When my brother got married in 1985 I ordered a set of photographs and made my own album. Today, many brides imagine they will make a wedding album from their images but sadly many don't.  Most likely down to the shear volume of images they need to select from. Trust your wedding photographer to help you and keep you focused on the story of the day in your album.  They also have access to some of the most beautiful wedding albums in the world and high quality printing labs. These are seriously beautiful products to treasure and share.

My brother on his wedding day - so young! But this was the image and photographer that inspired me to want
 to do wedding photography.  Candid images like this were rare in the 1980's. Photo: Ken Shelton, York

As technology developed not only did my family amass a serious number of family photograph albums, scrapbooks and framed photographs but also slides and cinefilm.  Technology changes and with it the contant need to update our archive.  I have a video of all the cinefilms from my childhood – and it needs updating to a newer technology now I no longer own a video player.  CD and DVD will also become redundant in time.  So what of all our digital images today?

We take so many more images now than ever before. Just 20-30 years ago a wedding photographer would probably be offering no more than 36 images to a wedding couple.  My parents had 10 images from their wedding in the 1950’s. 

My parents leaving for their honeymoon after their wedding in 1957. 
Dad was still recovering from whooping cough.

Today digital cameras mean some wedding photographers take well over 1000 images at a wedding  and will offer a minimum of 300-400 to their clients. Its great to have all these images but how often do we return to them?  After my own wedding in 2005 I loved having the digital images – I could share them online, make prints to frame, copies for friends and family and generally indulge myself in the whole day again and again.  With time, this need to look back over so many images diminishes.  The story gets lost, diluted even with so many unfiltered images and new events take over - like the birth of our son.  Today, its my album that I look at and show to people.  It is an edited collection of my wedding day.  The important photos are in there and reflects an accurate record of the day and as such creates a much greater impact on the viewer. A single image, or 2-3 carefully selected images tell a story much better than 10-20 images taken of the same subject.  After all, how many pictures of your bouquet and shoes will anyone else want to see? This filtering of our images has got lost in the shear volume of images we are producing.  We are literally overwhelmed by our lives.

When my best friend from childhood died from cancer early this year it was my wedding album I turned to. There were the photographs I remembered with her as my chief bridesmaid on my wedding day.   Foolishly we had not taken any photographs since that day. I was living abroad, we were old friends with plenty of years ahead for more photographs .... or so we thought.   And when people are dying, they do not want to be photographed - its not how they want to be remembered.  Similarly when my friend Stewart died 2 years ago again, I turned to my albums to find the photographs – photographs that brought a smile to my face as I remembered those days we shared as post-doc research students in London. 

Karen and I on my wedding day in Boston, MA (Photo: Amanda Ambrose Photography)

Photographs have this power to take us back in time and relive moments from our past, often evoking an emotion response – a laugh, a smile, a tear. They bring the past to present and allow those departed loved ones to be with us again. They tell stories we may have forgotten that we recount to our children.

When I look back at my albums it is more than a collection of photographs – it’s the story of my life and the generations that preceded it.  My dad built up an amazing record of our lives, often developing his own photos although no doubt it was left to my Mum to actually select the photographs that would go into the albums and carefully write a caption beside each one.

My dad died just over 3 years ago but he left behind a great legacy of my childhood which I can share with my son.  Just like him  I too am building up my legacy for future generations. I have many albums of my own from the pre-digital era. So why did that stop with digital?

My dad the day he retired!

My Mum has always kept asking me why I don’t print more photos – you do it for all your clients? I do have many framed and unframed prints in every room in the house and more in storage boxes,  but in recent years the only printed album is my wedding album. The reason?   “I have too many to print” I would cry (and perhaps more truthfully since becoming a professional photographer I spend all my time on my clients rather than my own family) but better to have a few in print than lose them all when your disk gets corrupted or hard drive dies. Looking back on these old albums has really brought home the importance of the narrative of photographs for my own family. This can only be achieved by applying filters to our archive, selecting the key images and then making albums to pass on to the next generation. 

I have my wedding album and I have my many thousands of images on hard drive.  My wedding photographer did the hard job for me for my wedding album. My summer task is going to be to organize my family images so my son has a true legacy of his childhood, a careful selection of images with narrative so he can tell the story to his children.  Just as my parents did for me. 

Jack and me taken by my husband just before we left Boston 2008. The images never got uploaded and I'd forgotten 
about them until I found them on a flashcard about 2 years ago. I immediately had it printed.

We'd love to hear your thoughts and views on the subject so please use the comments section below and  tell us what the printed image means to you.

If you like this blog post, please feel free to share.

To celebrate the importance of this subject I’ve also invited a select group of other professional photographers from around the country to blog their thoughts on this subject. So if you’d like to read the next chapter on this subject and follow our circle of blogs, please visit Claire and follow the chain.

And so the story continues…we hope you enjoy the journey with us x

You can also visit the websites of my inspirational co-bloggers here:

My guest blogger, good friend and awesome photographer from New Zealand Wendy Bowie coming up on this blog Judi Checketts Photography, Oxfordshire: http://judichecketts.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/more-than-image.html#links

Eliza Boo Photography, Norwich: http://elizaboophotography.blogspot.co.uk/

Claire Davey Photography, Luxembourg http://clairedaveyphotography.blogspot.de/

Todd & Moore Photography, York: http://toddandmoorephotography.wordpress.com/

Kerry Banner at Love The Image Photography, Gloucestershire:   http://www.lovetheimage.co.uk/blog/


  1. How lovely to see all of these Judi!! I'm so jealous of that pram!!! I always wanted one with my kids, but didn't have a bit enough hall at the time!

  2. Thanks Boo - yes the old prams were quite something weren't they. Quite different to what I had for Jack, but then his did fold down to go in the car :)