Family stock photos from Image Source/FSTOP

Many believe that digital spells the death of the old-style photo-album. But other factors mean this older format may be due a re-invention…

We broke up the dancing, drinking and chatting at my nephew’s 21st birthday party to look at a specially curated photo album. A highlight of the evening shown to gasps and cheers, and the groans of the birthday boy looking back on the highlights, haircuts and fashion experiments of every 21 year old male. The photo album was on CD which we watched on TV, and I was reminded of it reading Sean O’Hagan’s article in The Guardian in London around the photo album in the digital age. 


Spread from: Photographic Memory: The Album in the Age of Photography


O’Hagan’s article was prompted by an essay by Verna Posever Curtis in her book Photographic Memory: the Album in the Age of Photography prompting the question as to whether the album will survive in the age of Facebook and photo-sharing sites. The book contains examples of albums by photographers and artists.  O’Hagan doesn’t feel too nostalgic about the photo album, its discipline and order frames life and memory in a way that’s alien to him.


“If truth be told, my imagination and personal memories are more likely to be evoked if I trawl though an old box of anonymous family photographs, those piles of fading, crumpled, almost discarded things that end up in car boot sales and flea markets and remind us that most lives go unmarked and unremembered save for these unmoored images that have floated free for their context and thus are imbued with a quiet but resonant sense of mystery.”


We’ve talked a lot on IMSO recently about photo-sharing apps and the kinds of image-making they encourage. On the surface it signals the end of the considered, physical, photo-album. And perhaps photo-albums were created in age when images were more scarce? They’re just are a victim of the march of history like other formats such as 8-track cartridges and betamax. Or perhaps we are now primed for a new golden age of the photo-album? People use CDs and USBs to show photos on their TVs. And when people are used to being curators of information on blogs and social networking sites maybe there’s a new kinds of content for curated photo-albums that would be useful, entertaining, fun?  Is the photo-album dead or is it due a re-invention for the age of curation?


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