Insights from creating the Photobook

The actual process of assembling the material was very instructive. I decided to create a photobook using the Snapfish service mainly because, at the time, they were offering a 50% discount for all photobooks ordered by Sunday 9th December. This provided a useful time box to prompt me to get it done quickly and to gain the insights I was looking for rather than trying to get the perfect result.

The Snapfish photobook service enables you to position photos and text anywhere on a page at will. However, I found it more flexible to create the pages in Powerpoint and to export the completed pages as jpg images. These could then be inserted into each of the photobook pages as if it were a single photograph. This approach has the additional advantage of leaving you with an electronic version of what you have created (I have yet to explore if Snapfish are prepared to provide an eBook version of what they print).

As I discovered shortly after starting, getting the facts straight about 45 years of employment is quite challenging, and I ended up working intensively for several days. I finally finished the photobook at 11pm on Sunday night within just one hour of the Snapfish 50% off deadline. I ended up with a 72 page 8 x 11 portrait photobook with custom front and back hardback covers and special UV coating (to give it extra sharpness and shine, and to reduce marking) costing £38.35 including postage.

Here are some of the insights I gained:

  • The more time that passes, the harder it is to put faces to names and vice-versa,. It’s always best to make a note at the time.
  • Many people have entries in Linked In, Facebook or other on-line sites, so it’s becoming increasingly feasible to obtain people’s photos through the internet.
  • The more you think about what’s happened over the years, the more you keep remembering about it (there are now several additional things I would like to include in my work experiences photobook).
  • Trying to scan papers that are larger than A4 on an A4 flatbed scanner doesn’t give the best results.
  • Papers with a variety of different signatures written with different pens and ink colours, don’t scan well and require the scanner settings to be adjusted manually to get the best result.
  • Trying to establish dates and events by looking at collected papers and mementos is feasible but very time consuming. It would have been a lot easier if the items had all been sorted and indexed.
  • It’s quite easy to create photobooks once the content has been defined and assembled, and it can be relatively cheap if you take advantage of special offers – in this instance under £40 for 72 pages.

I now await the photobook to arrive to draw further conclusions about format, scanning quality etc., and, most importantly, to decide which of the artefacts I have used can actually be disposed of as originally envisaged.

The experiment – scope and analysis

The analysis of what I wanted to achieve with the retirement cards and messages confirmed my initial notion that I should digitise them and include them in a printed photobook. Then, I got to thinking that I could include the leaving cards from my previous jobs; and it was a only a short jump from there to deciding to make it a photobook of all the jobs I have had and all their associated artefacts (including offer letters, payslips, and, in one case, reject drills from when I worked on a lathe). This much extended scope would provide a pretty searching test of the feasibility of digitising and bringing to life such mementos.

I extended the analysis to include this wider scope, with the results below:

During my lifetime I want:

  • the retirement comments and messages to be read…. by me ….occasionally;
  • the people who sent me the retirement cards and messages to be remembered…. by me… occasionally;
  • pride to be felt on reading some of the retirement messages…. by me…. occasionally;
  • the jobs I have done over the years to be glanced through…by me…occasionally;
  • the names and pictures of people I have worked with to be available as a reference source… by me… when the need arises;
  • the information about my career to be available… for anyone who is interested… when the need arises.

After death I want:

  • the material to be either kept or thoroughly destroyed (because of the personal information it contains)… by whichever relative it is passed onto;
  • the book to be glanced at…. by the relatives who knew me …. a few times;
  • fond memories of me to be felt…. by the relatives who knew me… a few times;
  • pride of the family to be felt… by the relatives who knew me… a few times;
  • the photobook to be used to tell family offspring about their ancestors… by older members of the family… when appropriate.

I must say that I found the analytical process particularly hard to do. It was difficult to identify and verbalise my feelings; and it felt uncomfortable and self indulgent doing so. I have concluded that for this to be a useful tool for others (and indeed for myself), it would need to be in the form of a picklist with the options already identified. Perhaps that is something I’ll work on later. Another thing I observed was that my wishes were different when I expanded the scope from my retirement cards and messages to all the jobs I have done in my career – even though the latter included the former. It seems that different groupings of mementos, and the different contexts one places groups of mementos in, can actually change what one wants to do with them.

An initial memento experiment

Ideally, to start this journey I would explore the research on mementos and the experiences of those who manage large collections of similar objects (such as museums, foundations etc). I do intend to do both those things. However, I have an immediate need to do something with my retirement cards and messages, so I shall use them as the topic for an initial practical experiment which will focus on the following two questions:

  1. What do I want to achieve?
  2. What do I do with the physical objects?

To answer the first question, I plan to try out a structured approach in which I will consider what I want with these mementos both within my lifetime, and after death. In both cases I will specify one or more desires, the people who each desire applies to and the period over which the desire should extend. The notion is that getting a more insightful answer to the first question will help to get a better answer to the second question.

Memento problems and opportunities

I believe many people keep mementos, probably to remind them of the experiences they have had. However, most of those people eventually have to face the question ‘do I really want to keep this thing that is taking up space and which in any case isn’t such a potent keepsake as it once was?’. On a small scale – one or two items – it’s not a big deal. However, the more mementos you keep and the older they  get, the question takes on more significance. Accompanying the storage problem is the question of accessibility. Presumably, the reason people keep mementos is to be reminded of the experiences they represent. However, just keeping something in a cupboard and coming across it every few years may not be the best way of achieving that.  This is a journey to discover how digitisation can help to make mementos more accessible and easier to store.