Family albums: Memories are still made of these
By Peter Muiruri
5 years ago | 5 min read
When journalist Dan Kagochi was growing up in a city estate, the family photo album sat pretty on the table in the living room. It was the first thing a visitor saw after settling down in the home.
It contained the entire family history — from his great grandfather in a loin cloth, his grandfather and his three wives, to Kagochi’s father in his school days and later on sporting an Afro and ‘bell bottoms’. Young Kagochi too pride of place towards the end of the album.
That was then. Today, thanks to technology, the good old family album is facing an uncertain future.
“I don’t have a photo album, not even of my graduation. I place magazines on the coffee table. They are more interested in watching the English Premier League rather than peering into my past through pictures,” states Kagochi.
Kagochi’s story is familiar worldwide. Ever since the advent of digital technology, people can now take thousands of pictures in the shortest time possible using digital cameras, cellphones and iPads.
These are then uploaded onto computer hard disks, online social media forums such as Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, memory cards, Flickr, Shutterfly, and compact discs.
Research done by electronics giant Samsung found that on average, 1.9 billion photographs are taken each month in Britain, with 328 million of these shared online. Ten per cent of those polled said their photos were “gone in 60 seconds” by way of the many online forums.
“Sharing photos is instant. I don’t need to have an album for my friends and family to catch up on my life. I can share them in real time on my Facebook timeline or WhatsApp,” states Jane Wambui, a university student.
In days gone by, having one’s photos in an album was quite a task. Taking the picture itself was a time consuming endeavor that took days or weeks to plan. First, the family would choose a day, usually a Sunday, when the picture was to be taken.
Then, the village photographer would be summoned to the home. He would ride his worn out bicycle, bell ringing incessantly to the home and arrange his tools of trade — a film camera and flash. He would then use his good organizational skills to arrange the entire family in their desired format.
Two or three hours after his arrival, the family would be positioned beside the greenest hedge and at the count of three, the photo would be taken. Everything — the composition, lighting, and exposure had to be right the first time as there was to be no ‘wastage’ of film in a re-shoot.
The head of the family would pay a deposit of, say Sh20, and wait for a week or two to see the printed copy. Every picture in the family album would follow a similar script. Photo taking was such a serious event that everyone posed with a serious, no-nonsense face.
Today, the 35mm film is quickly becoming a relic because anyone with a cellphone that has an inbuilt camera can take their own photos. Selfies are ubiquitous.
Francis Njoroge has been taking pictures since the early 1970s. His studio Maridadi, located in the heart of Nairobi, used to be a beehive of activity as families lined up to have their picture taken.
He terms the amount of albums he would sell then as “reasonable”. Since the advent of the digital revolution, such families have reduced to a trickle. Those who want their pictures taken opt for a digital file rather than a hard copy for an album.
“Business is bad. We rarely take family pictures as was the case years ago. Even the family gatherings where having a photographer was a must, have become rare. Today families have one of their own take the pictures using an iPad or a phone. Graphics designers then create photobooks, the digital alternative to albums,” says Njoroge.
He says the main reason people take pictures is to preserve memories, which for him are best captured in a hard copy album.
“Your grandparents still want to see your pictures in an album. It is awkward to open up electronic devices for them,” states Njoroge.
And the family album is packed with memories. Just by looking at one picture, you can write a book about the happenings at that point in time.
In a post on HubPages, Mary Hyatt says it is a big mistake to discard the family album in favour of the digital archival system. She has kept an album for each year beginning in 1958, when she met and started dating her future husband. She believed she should have something tangible that would remind her entire family of her “glorious” past.
“I must have known I would marry this man because I never kept any souvenirs of dates with other young men at the time. I just knew this man was the one I would spend my life with. Keeping an album requires some time and effort, but I believe it is well worth that investment,” she writes.
There are others sticking to this old tradition. Miriam Njeri, a mother of one in Nairobi says although technology is changing the way we do things, a family photo album will always have a place in her life.
Her parents have kept her pictures in a photo album right from the time she was three months old, though she is yet to create one for her two-year-old son.
“There are times when you want a quick reminder of a certain event or a long gone family member or friend. Booting computers or other electronic devices may take time. Besides, that particular image may not even have been captured these modern devices,” she says.
However, she admits that albums have their drawbacks.
“They can get worn out due to too much physical handling, while some leaves can tear off, destroying the same precious memories one was trying to preserve,” she says.
On the other hand, those in favour of the digital archival system say one can store hundreds of images on a tiny device such as a memory stick. These can then be displayed for guests on personal computers and laptops.
Unfortunately, many have lost their entire collection of images to computer crashes or viruses. In any case, even the best hard discs do not last forever. Besides, experts reckon that future computers may not be able to read the type of picture files that are in use today. But only time will tell if the current generation will ditch the family album for good.
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