Photo albums used to be the family bible, visually recording the event of people, places and events. It required the acts of photographer, editor and album constructor. It was a labor of reminiscence and duty. As the holder of the photos and the negatives, only they had the artifacts to construct the story. As viewers we enjoy impressions among the context, artifacts of a trip are embedded, mementos of the event. The event of constructing the photo album is all but dead – it too has been abstracted.
The transformation of the photographic world to a digital reality moved the activity of album construction to the computer. Initially people focused on recreating what they had in the real world, the physical photograph. It turned out that it was more expensive per print than traditional means, but the rationale was that someone only printed what they wanted. Enter stage right, the photo editor who traditionally used contact sheets or prints now filtering with computer screens and postage stamp LCDs on cameras. Dramatically reduced, the cost to take pictures results in higher volumes of images for review, the editor continues to filter. Photos, now files, need to be backed up to CD, DVD or external storage. To work with photos beyond the basics requires software of all shapes and sizes that helps make the most of where we have evolved to be. We live in an age of visual abundance, requiring constant editing, leaving the activity of visual story telling to the dedicated few.
Forget not the magic of the Internet! Enter stage right, jogging next to digital cameras, photo-sharing websites. While the photo album continues to be nourished by older generations, the common people are looking to recover the social aspect of their visual record. The current state of the art is Flickr. Heavily edited, socially aware photo sharing, with family, friends and everyone. The construction of the Flickr account requires the same photographer, editor and album constructor, but add to it uploader, annotator, taxonomist, commentator, moderator and more. Image distribution casts a wider net. Instead of just family and friends physically present with the photo album, anyone can browse the gallery and experience a different kind of story, one favorited and commented by the known and unknown. This introduces two pressures. First, who has access to someoneâ€™s images what and do they care. Second, these photos are a representation of someoneâ€™s impressions and moreover their view â€“ the editing they applied to select a specific set of photos for others to experience. Now that literally everyone sees them, what is it that they intended to say? Filter, filter, filter. Far fewer images are seen and when they are, they lack the context of the human touch that made photo albums something of reverence and reminiscence. Just over the hill, on the other side of the coin, everyone enjoys the endless visual content that the society has constructed, defining the societal view and the visual trend. The slow death of the analog photo album leaves us somewhere different.
Digital photo frames reintroduce the album in a Harry Potter device. Pictures often cycle through allowing the viewer to see more than a single photo. The i-mate Momento 100 is a ten-inch digital photo fame that is wifi-connected and mates with an online service to bring much, much more to photo frames. Any shortcomings are quickly forgotten when someone experiences the magic. Momento Live is the site that mates with the frame allowing the frameâ€™s owner to subscribe to feeds, Flickr or others, and have those photos automatically downloaded and updated on the frame. In addition, the frame has an email address and MMS interface. Send an email with a photo attached and the image graces the frame. The owner is no longer the album creator. People of their own selection enter the mix. Add a Flickr feed generated from a search and view endless images of <insert keywords here> by people you may never know. The Momento points in the direction of recapturing and evolving societyâ€™s notions of the photo album, the photo sharing experience. The frame becomes the magical portal into moments experienced by the individual and others, remixed to impress upon the viewer. If only we were able to capture the human touch and replay that. The story is becoming more interesting, but lacks the meaningful connections people create when they share face-to-face.