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Photo Albums: the genesis of Ian’s memoirs

This website started out of my hobby of putting together themed photograph albums every two or three years.

The first page with a "Canada" theme in that first 1979 photo album: memories of my time in Canada in 1971-2 were still strong.

A page with a “Canada” theme in that first 1979 photo album: memories of my time in Canada in 1971-2 were still strong.

The hobby started in 1979: I graduated from UC Berkeley that year, and the first album revolved around my years there. Also, Sue Blanc and I had separated in 1978 after five years together, and she too was a major theme of the album.

There were a total of four Canada pages in this first album, reflecting how significant my time there had felt. This one was of the First Edmonton International Pop Festival in 1972.

The themes in that first album, as well as in the later albums, were a way to look at the years each covered and the people who shared those years.

I didn’t plan the themes in advance, or did so very little, but as I put each album together, I needed a way to organize the photos so that they weren’t just a jumble scattered over the pages. Some themes were of family members, and some had a historical or geographic focus.

I didn’t have a lot of photos to work from until around 1980. At that point, after the first summer of law school, I bought my first Nikon 35mm camera, and began to take photographs more consistently. But that initial 1979 album was put together out of the occasional rolls of film taken with the family Kodak cameras. Remember them? 12 0r 20 photos in each roll, 126 or 110 format, pretty good photos if you held the camera still and the subject was within its focal range: the good old days!

“Wheels,” one of the minor themes in the 1979-82 photo album. This page covered work, as a long-distance lorry driver in England in 1973, and as a Humphrey Go-Bart driver at Cal in 1976-70.

After that first album, I put together photo albums in much the same format covering subsequent years, three or four years per album. Each was again organized by themes, with pages devoted to a particular person or holiday or period.

There was one key problem with these albums, which I was rather proud of and wanted to show off to people: no-one was that interested! I remember enthusiastically pulling one or two albums out on a few occasions for lucky guests, only to notice that their eyes and minds wandered much more readily than I would have liked. After a while, I didn’t bother to bring them out any more: they were after all very personal.

I was late getting to the next album, which should have been done in by 1995 if I had kept up with the earlier schedule. But what with Marie-Hélène and I getting together and blending our new family, I did not finally get around to compiling the next album until 2000.

This page of the 1979-82 album covers arriving at law school. Mum and dad drove me up to New Haven, which was much appreciated.

The wait had a significant incidental benefit. By 2000, the possibility was there for a complete amateur like me to prepare the next album digitally. So I did.

It took a little arranging: scanners (both photo and negative) made digitizing photos doable with pretty good quality, and then Microsoft Front Page made it easier to create a photo album on the web. Adobe Photoshop Elements helped format and improve the photos, as well as prepare them for display on the web.

The first version of this web site was the six years from 1994 through 2000, organized on the web in much the same way as it would have been organized on paper, except that organizing pages on the web made them more accessible than on paper.

Doing so was worth it from day one because it enabled the selected family photographs to be shared with everyone in the family who wanted to see them, with no diminution in quality, on their own PCs and then on their own phones. I discovered that the children in particular were much more likely to look at and share this new family photograph album when the parents were not there. This should not have been a surprise!

Over the years that original digital album has grown and grown, with periods and themes added, regular improvements in the quality of the photos reflecting technological advances through broadband internet access, and continuous editing and rearranging. It’s an addictive hobby!

Sue and I shared this house on Alcatraz Avenue in North Oakland for our first two years at Cal, our last two years together. Ups and downs.

The old paper albums sit on their shelves, benignly neglected except for when I browse through them. This digital album actually gets a consistent if modest amount of traffic.

I have become more chatty. 2004 was one visible transition point, because almost a year of unplanned free time enabled me to add new pages, and to focus on elaborating the old, starting to make them part of a journal as much as part of a photo album.

Moving forward after 2004, I consistently gave more detail, adding the year-end summaries of our lives sent to family and friends during the Holiday season, trying to tell something more of our constant and evolving little stories.

A page from the last paper photograph album, from 1990 to 1992, before Marie-Hélène and I moved in together. It is Christmas 1990, and Nick (then four years old) and Tom (then just a year old) had a blast!

A page from the last paper photograph album, from 1990 to 1992, before Marie-Hélène and I moved in together. It is Christmas 1990, and Nick (then four years old) and Tom (just one) had a blast!

I started the current version in 2011, to bring the family photograph album on the web into the present, and beautify it a bit, by converting it out of Microsoft’s Front Page. The site was looking dated, and Microsoft had put the last nail in its coffin by “discontinuing support” for its apparent dinosaur. Some kind of technical migration was required.

The new format is WordPress, recommended by Sol Lipman when he was still at NextSpace.

With Sol in the NextSpace cafe in 2013.

Our family’s collective story together was over when the site was converted. Correcting and reformatting the conversion, I found myself going back, looking at it all afresh, rewriting just about everything.

I went through every photograph that I could find from the 16 years that we had been together – a ton of photos, because I’ve always kept them carefully, organized by date in boxes (for the earlier photos printed from negatives) or file folders (for the later digital photos) – and sorted through and added many to those already on the site. There were new photos which added context or an anecdote, there were new photos for new themes, and there new photos which simply helped complete our portraits and stories, the portraits and stories of the eight of us and our almost 16 years together.

Every family moves on. Not every family has such a record of who it was over the years. That’s what this hobby has given each of us.