Over the past eight years, I've taken hundreds of photographs, ranging from snapshots to attempts at high art. Most of these have found their way to a dusty corner of my closet shelf.
"Why," I wondered, "did I bother?"
The problem: How to bring these pictures out of the closet?.
Investing $12 in a photograph album that said "Fill me" was an auspicious beginning. I planned on one evening of nostaglic pleasure sorting through pictures and reviewing my past. Five nights later, I was still wrestling with the challenge.
Attacks of indecision cropped up at random intervals. Insomnia found me fretting over which shot of Glacier Park was actually the best. My simple task had turned into a Major Project. And so, some advice to others beginning a photograph album:
* The Initial Run-through: Delve into each print folder and pull out the pictures you like best. Triplicates of Aunt Millie's second lap-dog are fine, if the pictures appeal to you. Use this round to get rid of the pictures that nobody likes. Omit the ones someone violently objects to. Also, pass up the shots no one will admit taking. The Virgin Islands were spectacular, but what inspired that shot of the baggage at Dulles Airport?
* Round Two: This step is more difficult because you begin to make subtle distinctions. Does the picture have real meaning for you? Imagine yourself describing your first neighbors in your first apartment. "That's Joe Smith and his daughter Connie. Old Joe was quite a guy. He was an electrical engineer, or maybe a mechanic. And Connie was a cute little girl. She wore glasses, as you can see." Obviously Joe and Connie have not stood the test of time. Cut them out.
You may want to include multiple pictures of the same people. One's own face has endless appeal. "Here I am on my first vacation in Florida, 1973; that's me in Florida, 1975; in 1978." Grandpa at ages 80, 81 and 82 blinks lovingly into the sun. A sense of on-going relationship flows from the continuity. These pictures may not be high art, but their value is priceless.
* The Sucker Shots: These are the "it-seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time shots." You may want to keep them just because you took so many. How else do you justify the waste of film? My own predictable sucker targets are animals: Deer, raccoons, mongeese, chipmunks, skunks. They all have dashed through my viewfinder at enough speed to create a "find-the-animal" game. My advice is to omit most of them. A secret vice is best left unrevealed to others.
* Labeling: Do you intend to provide full commentary along with each album presentation? If not, labels of "Mom, Dad, Cousin Steve"' will facilitate the unaccompanied viewer's progress. Be careful, though, of over-doing. "Paul's Mom, Ann's Second Cousin Steve, and Great-Aunt Sarah, twice removed on Ann's mother's side" are liable to present more documentation than the average viewer wants. You are putting together a photo album not compiling a family genealogy.
* The Audience: Three hundred and fifty pictures have been culled to 65 and painstakingly arrayed in chronological order. The brown vinyl cover shines with expectant newness. You are now ready to find an audience. Your spouse or companion may reminisce appreciatively, but recognize that this does not test your skill as armchair guide. Inquiries, such as "What's written on your father's T-shirt?" may stump you, but take it in stride.
Your most discreet mode of presentation is to leave the compilation casually displayed on a living room table. Visible, but not oppressively so. Your guests are then free to ask, "Is that a picture album?" Or, from truly kindred spirits, "Any new photographs?" It is permissible to grin widely as you open the binding.
Inevitably, your collection will become a prized possession.