I Think It's Time To Start A Scrapbook So I'll Always Know Who's Who In Photos

Because Instagram tagging can only accomplish so much.

Tonight I used the Walgreens app feature that lets you print square photos from your own Instagram account. It's been available for a while but I've been resistant -- a lot of my domestic life is focused on getting rid of "stuff" in the house or at least not adding to it: using art supplies, taking duplicate books to the used book store, purging my closet every six months. The effort toward organized minimalism is a constant one (and that as an end state shall never actually be achieved).

I love Instagram. In the middle of the night, when I can't sleep and I can't quite bring myself to get up and deal with words, I scroll through people's pictures and relax into #quilting and #fluevog and #fatshion. (OK, sometimes I also read curtain fic on AO3 but that's after I've started to feel creepy for liking strangers' pictures.) I particularly like it when my friends post old family photos.

My family members, depending on the occasion, will often find themselves gathered around the table (especially after a funeral or when someone is visiting), going through photos kept in both albums and boxes. A lot of the pictures are very old, fragile in general but particularly around the much-handled edges; some of the paper has crumbled away, often taking names and dates written in faded ink with it. But there's a sense of history there, even though my grandparents are sometimes the only people with actual memories of what's going on in the images, even though their memories are kind of vague for some of the pictures.

I think this is why people like scrapbooking. In the early 2000s, scrapbooking was a huge deal and it was very twee and even when I couldn't stand the look of it, I loved the idea of it -- which was actually not new at all -- but I couldn't get into it then.

The OED traces the word origin of "scrap-book" to 1854 -- this means people were probably doing it under other names for quite a while before that. Women and children in particular collected all sorts of speciality paper products for use in decorating scrapbook pages. That the Victorians were into displaying photos on decorative spreads should surprise exactly no one given the general nature of the Victorian aesthetic, I think.

Mark Twain was into scrapbooking and popularized the verb form of it. And this article from the Smithsonian touches on the civic aspect of scrapbooking, when black scrapbookers, for example, saved newspaper reports of lynchings that would have otherwise (let's be honest) been ignored or erased by white historians.

And this book, Writing With Scissors: American Scrapbooks From The Civil War To The Harlem Renaissance provides a solid 150-year history of how scrapbooking has evolved to include ticket stubs and autographs and that sort of thing in addition to newspaper clippings.

I approach this subject without a lot of old printed photos in my possession. But my grandmother has given me a handful of duplicates of photos from her own photo albums, and I completely treasure them. Without them, there would be no evidence of my confusing ’90s fashion (I had a very Boy George-feeling hat) or my intense bangs when I was a little kid who loved Cabbage Patch Dolls. I wouldn't have pictures of my great-grandmother or my great-uncle Joe.

There's so much missing though -- the few photos I have don't fill the albums they came in. There are gaps that are partly due to my own avoidance of the camera when I was at my most self-loathing. But there are also gaps because I thought digital storage was going to be stable and then it just wasn't. And, as I sift through Instagram photos from the past two weeks and realize I am already uncertain what part of Texas I took some weird photo in, that just isn't going to be OK anymore.

Well, I mean, sure, what I really want is to be able to plug in our brains and download our memories somewhere as a backup, too. But in the meantime, a return to paper feels somehow reassuring. The practice obviously benefits from digital tools -- copying and cropping and printing, among others -- but the tangible nature of a physical journal has its appeal, right? Because that is the essence of the modern scrapbook/photo album that tells the stories of the pictures it contains.

I still can't get into a very decorated page. And pasting in receipts for all the places Claire and Amanda and I ate and drank in Seattle would take more than one or two pages. But I don't want to be in my 80s with a failing memory trying to tell that story either.

For now I'm going to put my square Instagram pics in the old photo albums I got from my grandmother. And I'll print out some of the stuff I wrote for Amtrak and I'll make some more notes. And maybe it won't go a whole lot further than keeping track of new memories as they happen. But maybe if I can get it and keep it all together, I can help organize some of those old photographs that my grandparents have before there's no chance of finding out who all of those people are.

Do you print photos out? Do you scrapbook/keep photo albums or have you gone entirely digital? Does it seem like returning to the old-school way is the new-school way of doing things in general again?