Scrapbooking has evolved from a quaint craft into photo albums on steroids. Here’s how to get started.
Is it a photo album . . . or is it a scrapbook? Not too many years ago we put our photographs in an album, usually adhering them with little photo corners. If we were thoughtful, we identified the pictures with a few words telling who the people were or where the photos were taken. But all too often there was no labeling, leaving us to wonder, years later, who that gorgeous girl was or what was the name of that castle.
Dance programs, a valentine from an unknown admirer, theater tickets, and other memorabilia – a.k.a. scraps– went into a scrapbook. Some things labeled, some things not. My father kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about the lectures he gave all over the country. My college scrapbook, with its pages turning brown from the acid in the paper, is so full of precious stuff that the book can’t be closed. In preparing to write this article, I browsed through that old college album, which I hadn’t looked at in years. Memories! Things I had forgotten about. I spent hours looking rather than writing.
A scrapbook becomes very meaningful when you – or your children and grandchildren – look at it decades later..
Old scrapbook: Decades old, my scrapbook from college is a typical collection of memorabilia and an occasional photograph. The pages are deteriorating due to their high acid and lignin content.
An evolving legacy
Scrapbooks have been an important part of people’s lives for over a hundred years. Men, women, and children of all ages kept scrapbooks. Rich people, poor people, and celebrities filled their books with clippings, a bit of lace from a wedding gown, gum wrappers, and, of course, greeting cards. Some books were ornate, with carefully composed pages; others were second-hand books with memorabilia pasted on the pages– the forerunner of what we now call "altered books." Even earlier, in the 15th century, when printing was invented, people in England created "commonplace books," pasting in recipes, quotes, letters, poems, and anything else they were interested in. Scrapbooks give us a delightful glimpse into the life of our ancestors.
In recent years, there has been an amalgam of both the scrapbook and the photo album. Today’s scrapbook is really a glorified photo album, or as a friend commented to me, a photo album on steroids. The emphasis is on photographs, and the term scrapbook is almost a misnomer. Yes, relevant bits of memorabilia– a foreign postage stamp, an invitation to a party, a seashell from the beach– are often included, but generally they are there as decorative accents; the focus is on the photographs.
Modern scrapbook: The emphasis is on the photographs, interestingly arranged, with descriptive journaling and decorative enhancements.
There’s no more guessing as to the who, what, when, and where of the photographs, because a significant part of each page is the use of words. The words could be just a short title or caption; on other pages, they might be an extensive description known to scrapbookers as "journaling." Brief or extensive, words are an integral part of telling the story.
And the pages won’t turn brown and crumble over time, because now we’ve learned to use paper that is acid- and lignin free.
The most appealing feature of scrapbooks is their eye appeal. These are not just photographs pasted on a page. They are photographs on attractive backgrounds enhanced with exciting embellishments, and put together in striking ways.It’s memories preserved in a creative way that captivates everyone who picks up the album, not just the people who are in the photographs. In short, it’s art. It’s art that you might even want to frame and hang on a wall.
Modern-day scrapbooking got its start in 1980 with an exhibit of 50 scrapbooks created by Marielen Christensen of Spanish Fork, Utah. A year later, she and her husband opened the first scrapbooking store, and in the next decades, hundreds of scrapbooking stores and scrapbooking departments opened all over the United States and around the world. Manufacturers produced enticing papers and embellishments (many of which can be found in Adorama’s scrapbook supply department) to be used in the books, and even Martha Stewart, the crafting diva, introduced her own line of scrapbooking products.
Today, the art and craft of scrapbooking has become the leading hobby in the United States, and an over $2.5-billion-per-year industry. And for good reasons. Scrapbooks let us preserve our memories as well as provide a means of creative expression. Children, the elderly, and those at every age in between are picking up scissors and glue to make scrapbooks. The hobby has grown so much that there are scrapbooking conventions, retreats, and cruises. There are several thousand online websites, thousands of instructional books, and a dozens of magazines, all devoted to scrapbooking.
How about you? If you haven’t joined the community of scrappers, I hope this series of articles will inspire you. As a photographer, you take hundreds of photographs of your family, your celebrations, and your vacations. A scrapbook is the ideal place to put them and have your friends and family admire your efforts.
You may want to make separate scrapbooks for different years and arrange the pictures chronologically. This is an especially good format if you have young children. You’ll probably want to make individual scrapbooks for specific events– a birthday party, wedding, or a trip to Greece. Or you may want to put photographs of just flowers or your cat in their own themed scrapbooks. Or maybe an ABC scrapbook, each page with photos in alphabetical order. Chronological, event, or theme– do whatever seems most appropriate for the pictures you shoot.
When getting started, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the thousands of photographs you may have in your computer or stashed in shoeboxes, especially if you want to work chronologically. So a word of caution before you start.: The best approach is not to attempt to start from day one when Andy, who is now eight years old, was born. Start from today and move forward. You can catch up on the earlier years– or not– when you have the time.
This article kicks off the Adorama Learning Center’s new Scrapbooking category. In other articles, I’ll talk about supplies and storing them, designing your pages, embellishments, creative cropping, digital scrapbooking, and many other topics to help you have fun with this activity that is the perfect complement your photography.