By the side of the photo album


Do you have a thick family photo album at home? The kind of physical photo album that can be flipped by hand.

Do you still look through photo albums often now? When was the last time you looked through an album?

My grandparents have two thick photo albums. One is about A4 size, and the other is a little smaller, hard paper cover. My grandmother also made two plastic covers to protect the album. So that every time I take out these two photo albums, they are not dilapidated. In the past two years, the direction of my photography project has been around the old photos. The last time I looked through my family photo album, it was also because I was doing a work that was related to the family photo album.

Photo album, a book with a collection of photographs placed inside, for saving and placing photos. Photo albums are mainly used to collect and protect photos. The original album was made of a hard paper shell with a layer of white translucent paper in the middle as one page. On the paper shell, there are four corners for inserting photos according to the size of photos. The white translucent paper plays the role of protecting photos. There are also PP insert bags with inner pages. With the development, the materials of photo albums have also changed. Usually, photo albums are made of paper shell and PVC insert bag.

When you open your family photo album, the details of family life and the stories of family are coming up, you can always find the shadow and context of family life through the photo albums. The growth of family members and the changes of family structure are also clearly reflected in our family photo album. The “punctum”put forward by Roland Barthes in the Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography are all over our family album. It is these “punctum” that make us love or dare not touch the family album.[I]

In the era before the popularity of personal photography equipment (mobile phones or digital cameras), we always carefully collected our family photos in family albums. Each photo is carefully arranged in a transparent plastic bag that only belongs to them. The sorted family photo album is often properly placed in the safest drawer. I am impressed to remember that there are many photos under the glass on my grandfather’s desk. These photos are their precious photos. In short, we collected our family photos like a treasure, for fear that a careless bump will break all the beauty here. At that time, almost all family photo albums were kept by their parents, and children can’t touch them without permission. Whenever relatives and friends get together, people will always turn out the photo album, share and discuss together, and rely on each other’s memory and this visual image to complete and reproduce the past history little by little.

After the emergence of family photo albums, it seems that every family member’s memory has decreased. They have a serious lack of confidence in their memory and an unexplained blind trust in family albums. They love family photo albums very much. In fact, they are also loving their memories of past family life. Through family photo albums, they can grasp the position of individuals in family history and family in the whole social history. Like reference coordinates, without family albums, they will lose their memory, so they can’t find the way to the future, and their current existence will lose its foundation.

Nowadays, with the popularity of personal photography equipment, photography has become a part of our life. The camera phone we carry with us makes it easy for us to touch the scenery and feel emotions. We can record beautiful moments at any time.

We’ve been taking pictures all the time. We need to take photos of a friend party, an afternoon tea, plates on the table, beautiful sunset, and even when we go to a new place.

Countless trivial details of life have been magnified, beautified and rendered. We hope to shoot every link of clothing, food, housing and transportation and share it on the Internet in almost real time. In this way, we show our life to the greatest extent, and then share it with family and friends far away, just as we still live under the same roof. I’m in this house and you’re next door.

But at the same time, the phenomenon of paying attention to memory the photo seems to have suddenly disappeared. People only pay attention to the shooting of photos, but don’t care about the preservation of photos.

First of all, digital technology has greatly reduced the cost of photo. Taking photos has almost become an activity without any cost. Therefore, the importance of photos, its product, seems to have been ignored. Secondly, after the photos are taken and shared on the Internet, its function of helping people recall history seems to be consumed immediately, that is to say, its recording value is realized and completed immediately after the birth of photos. Therefore, it seems unnecessary for its long-term preservation. Finally, when people’s interest is only focused on taking photos, they have no time and no patience to turn out a photo from the increasing number of family photos to recall a certain period of history, and this is like a vicious circle. The more people keep taking photos, the more their memories are squeezed and diluted.

We are less and less concerned about how to take care of photos.

The existence of the Internet makes the sharing of these photos not limited by time and space. The world suddenly became smaller, the interaction and integration of different cultures became more intense, and the world began to show a trend of diversification. Globalization and regional mobility move us out of our homes and constantly change our learning and workplace. We are like early nomads, living together on water and grass, chasing modern resources and culture. Looking back, it seems that the home at that time is no longer what it used to be. Families are scattered everywhere. The custom of taking family photos every year in the past has gradually become an extravagant hope. About family photos, we become more and more isolated.

Our lives are almost seamlessly and completely depicted, and the real world is almost completely depicted by personal cameras.

There seems to be no difference between our photos and the real world. The similarity between Martin Heidegger’s “The Age of World Picture” and the real world has reached an unprecedented level.[II]

Photography has become a part of our family life, but we no longer to pay attention to its recording characteristics, nor do we expect to organize the photos into a album to help us recall in the future. We just shoot endlessly, then transfer the photo data to the computer, and then we don’t ask for more.

Today’s you, still print out photos one by one, carefully organize and make a viewable photo album and preciously preserve it?


Images: Peipei Chen, no title, 2022.


[I]  Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, French,1980.

[II] Martin Heidegger, “The Age of the World Picture” or “The Age of the World View,in which he addresses the metaphysical ground of modern science. It was published in the essay collection Holzwege in 1950.