At last count, we had seven digital cameras in our house. We’ve got a digital SLR, two point-and-shoots, two iPhones, a Flip video camera, and another little Kodak video camera. There are defensible reasons for owning all of these, so it might seem outrageous. But hold on there, judgey: before you judge me, maybe you should just count up your own image-making devices.
Anyway, before our twins were born two years ago, we had around 2,000 pictures on various computers, discs, and hard drives. Since their birth, we have added probably another five or six thousand to that.
What we don’t have many of are actual physical versions of these images that we can hold in our hands, pass around to our friends, or let our kids thumb through.
It’s nice to have all these pictures on the computer if we feel like looking through them, but it would be pretty cool to have them out where people could see them without having to turn on a machine. Kind of like those old–what do you call ‘em–photo albums.
We have a couple photo albums that we keep on our coffee table. The pages are yellowed and brittle, and the most recent photos are from 2001, the year my wife and I got married. Our guests love them, and our kids look at them every day. But the idea of printing out photos from digital cameras and sticking them behind plastic film in a book just seems a little…perverse. The old school photo album was kind of a lame attempt at making something like a real book out of your snapshots. In the digital age, there’s no reason not to make an actual book instead.
No reason, that is, except for not getting around to it. We have meant to make photo books–the kind you put together online and have printed and sent to your house–for years now.
But this time, I actually went through with it. Using HP’s Photo Creations software, which you can download for free, I put together a 30-page book that documents the evolution of the house we’ve been living in for the last eight years. Just like our family, the house has doubled in size during that timespan, and gone through a lot of other changes as well.
As I do every freaking time I try something new on the computer, I cussed and shook my fist at the monitor as I learned how to use the program. Nothing seemed intuitive to me, I spent a few hours just to get started, and at one point I lost all the data I had uploaded into the program. That’s all par for the course for me, and doesn’t reflect on the software at all.
At some point though, it all clicked. It’s almost like the features of the program came into focus. After that, I never ran into another glitch. I was laying out pictures, cropping them, adjusting their sizes, picking different background colors and patterns, and adding all kinds of text. Once I figured it out, everything made sense, and all of the options were right where I wanted them to be.
I appreciated that I could tinker with the photos while they were already laid out on the page, rather than having to adjust them in iPhoto and import them again. I was also able to import more photos from both my computer and online sources like Facebook and Snapfish when I needed to, or when it occurred to me that a picture existed that would fit well in a certain series. It really ended up being…dare I say it?…fun. I mean, I probably spent a good twelve hours on the damn thing, but the process was surprisingly satisfying.
In putting together this book, I felt like I was not just organizing photos, but actually making some sense of the last eight years, using our house as the common thread that held together all the plot twists in our story.
The last three years were especially chaotic, since they included the discovery that we were going to have twins, and the mad dash to convert our 800 square foot bungalow with no central heat, AC, or foundation, into something that a family of four could comfortably live in. During that time, I quit working outside the home almost entirely, and devoted my time first to building the addition on our house, and then, when my wife’s maternity leave was up, to taking care of the children.
There was a lot of upheaval during that time. And although I’m deliriously happy doing what I do now, I never really processed the transition from my old life to my current one. I was surprised at how much sorting through these images helped me make a tidy narrative of the wild state of flux we were in during the earliest phase of parenthood. And now, instead of trying to describe that process to people, I can just pass them a beautifully bound, glossy, professional-looking photo book and let them see it for themselves.