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.)
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.