The many joys of photo-booklets

Three small photobooks: memories of my life in the 1940s, memories of my life in the 1950s, and precious drawings by my childre.
Decluttering tool, legacy, memoir, creative medium: some of the joys of photo-booklets

Ages ago I was confronting a chaotic mess of personal photos in albums, in envelopes, on hard drives and floppy disks and memory sticks and walls and in the cloud. And I had an IDEA—ding ding! Instead of attempting to bring order to the chaos, I would be brutally selective. I’d make one tiny photo-booklet for each decade of my life.

I know two people who have shelves and shelves of photo-books, beautifully curated and catalogued. They can instantly find any photo they want.

I suppose some people do the same brilliant job with their digital photos. I haven’t met one yet. (Is that you?)

Others create slide-shows of photos and show them rotating on a digital photo frame like a screen.

All these are excellent solutions. I admire them. But I had my own approach with a twist.

Planning for my future frailty

It’s quite possible that one day I will be very old, possibly bed-bound, certainly with poor eye-sight and maybe with clumsy painful hands.

Then one of my pleasures will be to browse through some tiny photo-books, each one telling the story of part of my life in pictures. Easy to handle. Feather light. Small enough to slide under a pillow. A talking point for visitors. Refreshing my memories old and recent.

An extra incentive: aphantasia

The idea of making these books came when I discovered that I have no “mind’s eye”, no ability to visualise anything whatsoever with my eyes shut. It’s a neurological quirk, neither good nor bad, but a bit unusual. Can’t be fixed—and not a problem.

Only one aspect of aphantasia upset me: I discovered that all my friends could shut their eyes and “see” their loved ones. They can summon up a mental picture of the faces of their friends and family. I’d always thought “visualisation” or “picture this!” was just a metaphor, but no, it’s literally doable for most people.

I was jealous. I thought of myself in hospital or a rest home, surrounded by other old people who could do this amazing visualisation trick. But not me!

So I worked out a modest solution: not a pile of heavy photo albums. Not a laptop or tablet or digital photo frame. But something I could slip into a bag or put under my pillow; a book or two of love to keep me company.

More about mini-photo-books

Mine are 22 pages, 8×6 inches. More like a zine than an old-fashioned photo album. For that matter, more like a zine than a modern photo album.

I happen to use the Diamond Photos website in Aotearoa/ New Zealand to create mine. I’m not saying it’s the best of the thousands such websites in the world. But I’m sticking with it.

I think I’ve made every mistake possible. And trust me, many are possible. Even when doing booklet Number Five I hit frustrations. Some mistakes I attribute to the software or the website’s GUI. Others were just me stumbling or being careless. Consequently some books have got missing images or words, or “add text” in the centre of a photo. Luckily support was only an email away.

Why I’m sticking with Diamond Photos instead of switching to another company:

  • I’m finally getting used to this software so why start all over again?
  • I want all my booklets to be the same size so they fit neatly into a small bag or box. (Every company has a slightly different size range.)
  • The price is very good, and they have frequent special offers.
  • Printing and posting is prompt and reliable.
  • It’s not fancy; I save myself a lot of pain by keeping to the same simple design.
  • The support desk has rescued me when trouble strikes.

Beyond personal photos: creative potential of photo booklets

So far I have made seven photo booklets, and only two of them are about my life. The format is so much fun that I’m already using it for random creative projects.

In the first image in this post, you’ll see photo booklets about two decades of my life (the 1940s and 1950s)—as planned. You’ll also see an open booklet of children’s drawings—not part of the plan but what a delight. I think every parent has a stash of drawings that they can’t bear to destroy, but which get more crumbled and yellow and faded and torn year by year. I chose five from each of my offspring and had great fun making a book of precious drawings by my precious children.

Below is a photo of three other booklets I’ve made recently. The Wonky Lockdown Diary of cartoons. Photos taken at WOMAD festival, which some of us attended ten years in a row. And 22 photos taken at daybreak on my balcony when I was doing tai chi: this booklet is a conversation with our planet Earth.

Naturally I’ve got ideas for heaps of other booklets that combine photos or drawings with tiny poems, for instance. These booklets cost about NZD13.00 to make, but I wait for offers at half price. (They’re not for sale.)

A photo of three photo-booklets on a carpet: Wonky lockdown diary, WOMAD 2010–2020, and Good Morning, Earth
Three photo-booklets: Wonky lockdown diary, WOMAD 2010–2020, and Good Morning, Earth

How to make a photo-booklet

Every commercial online system for creating photo-books is different, of course. But in a future post I will explain the various problems I have overcome so far—and how to avoid them. It won’t be a technical guide: just the big picture and a few hacks and work-arounds. I hope to give you confidence that the process is super-satisfying—when you know how. Then if this appeals to you, you can at least manage a mini-collection of photos, and at best—discover how outrageously brilliant you become with this tool at your fingertips.

Spending time with old photos, I’ve found myself making sense of certain events in my distant past for the first time ever. You may find the process enlightening or emotional or cathartic. That’s a bonus, in case you wondered.

More soon.

21 thoughts on “The many joys of photo-booklets

  1. haoyando says:

    What a beautiful arrangement. And you will always have your friends and relatives “visualized” in your albums. Although people do digital albums more often nowadays, i still feel that old albums charming.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      The grand old albums are charming. These are a bonus, an investment in a happy old age.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    A lovely solution. I didn’t understand the condition you describe, but no do. I seem to have the opposite. I get the whole setting, along with sound and sense memory. It can be a little much.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      You do? Yes, that too has a name: hyperphantasia, I think. Very disturbing if it’s sad or traumatic events that you see.

      1. Elizabeth says:

        Yikes. I didn’t know there was a name. I don’t think mine is that extreme, at least where trauma is concerned.

      2. Rachel McAlpine says:

        Sooner or later, every little feature or quirk of the brain gets a name. I’m glad you don’t have the downside of yours.

      3. Elizabeth says:

        Me too.

  3. IRWIN LENGEL says:

    What an interesting concept! We recently moved and are still in the process of going through boxes of stuff; boxes of photos; albums of photos and seeing that we aren’t getting any younger, now might be the time to tackle that project. Thank you for sharing. I’ll have to suggest it to my wife as she is the one saddled with going through the boxes and boxes of stuff.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I’m glad if this proves helpful for you. The beauty of it is that (while of course you choose with great care) each booklet is just a sample– and it cannot be perfect so you don’t overthink. Good luck, Irwin’s wife,and have fun.

  4. judibwriting says:

    I love this idea and how you came to it as well: using a difference in brain wiring to create a brilliant solution. I am at the point of needing to weed and collate my writings on the computer. Not all of my words are precious (far from it) but even the bad poems do shed light on a particular time in my life all inscribed and transferred from computer to computer, once they came on the scene. That technology was good for me, as my handwriting was seriously disintegrating. You have inspired me to at least start the process of winnowing my words. I leave photos to my daughter who already has all the old collections and boxes of family “stuff” in her house. Living in my single room in Assisted Living, I have little space for a lot of stuff- but I can at least order my writings. Thank you, and do share more about the how to’s of making those booklets. Such a loverly idea.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      And I love that you have shifted the idea sideways to apply–somehow! Creatively! — to your writings. Booklets of poems, maybe?

  5. What an absolutely fantastic idea Rachel, and also the side thought of creativity booklets.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Glad you like it! So do I.

  6. I must have aphantasia. I can’t shut my eyes and visualize people.

    I’m not brilliant, because I don’t sparkle, but I am good with digital photos. Early on, each photo was named, beginning with a six-digit number for the date. There is also a short title. They are stored in files by year. I can usually find a particular photo in just a minute or so.

    I love your idea of small books of pictures covering 10-year periods.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Sounds as if you may have aphantasia. It’s a spectrum, and easy enough to find out. I’m thrilled to hear about your systematic filing system. So satisfying.

      1. I CAN remember photos of people, which is good enough for me.

      2. Rachel McAlpine says:

        Interesting. Whatever works, huh?

  7. I think photo booklets are so fun. The best use? Infant photos for grandparents living far away.:-) Even that small project forces someone (probably mom) to curate and declutter the bazillion infant photos.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      True that! But if she tries to make it perfect, it never gets done.

  8. Cathy Cade says:

    Maybe aphantasia might explain why I’ so bad at recognising people I’ve met before. My face-blindness got me into trouble in my youth when my mother’s friends thought I was cutting them when we came across each other in the street. I got into the habit of smiling and greeting anyone who as much as looked at me.
    I’ve never got into the habit of reaching for the camera to snap a photo. By the time I’ve got out my mobile, the moment’s passed. I started a family album when the children were small but it ind of petered out…
    What I did put together was a ‘Pickle calendar’ to be printed by a well-known online company to give to the family one Christmas. It charted the advent of our new terrier Digger (taken on from friends of my children) and old Pickle (originally my youngest son’s dog who retired with us) and it showed the two dogs playing, begging and relaxing together. Since then, we have lost both dogs, so I’m pleased to still have those photos around.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      The Pickle calendar sounds wonderful, and has brought you lots of joy. About face blindness: aphantasia nearly always have that too, but not vice versa. I’ve dallied with getting a badge saying “I’m face blind”. A nuisance but you get used to it, don’t you?

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