The Vanishing World of the Photograph Album
The Format 13 ‘Album Beauty’ exhibition is in the Derby Quad Gallery. The exhibition is free, and remains open until 26th May. It is described as an ode to this vanishing art form, whose purpose apparently was to ‘document and display the mundane’ – the private reality of people’s lives.
Mundane or not, I found the exhibition most touching. One moves through a rather dated personal photograph album. The subjects on the whole look self-conscious, and very carefully still for fear of wrecking the (expensive) film. There are little boys in corduroy shorts, and girls with bows in their hair and puffed-sleeve dresses. There are baby pictures, and couples, cars and bikes. Most have no description at all, so very private.
The two photos I have used are actually from one of our family albums, my father, and my paternal grandparents – his father and mother. I used personal photos rather than risk violating any copyright issues by using the Album Beauty images exhibited in the Derby Quad gallery. These Album Beauty images, once proud personal possessions, are all ‘found’ photos, taken from abandoned, long-forgotten family albums, bought from market stalls or car boot sales and curated by Eric Kessels.
Ask anyone below the age of 40 if they have an album and they’ll probably assume you mean a Facebook album or just possibly a wedding or baby album which is both a record and just possibly an ostentatious desire to impress. Nowadays our ‘reality’ is no longer private. It is brazenly public, viewed on YouTube, Facebook or Flickr, stored in the Cloud, buzzing around the ether like a swarm of flies.
The aim is to impress, entertain, amuse or embarrass, reaching as many social media viewers as possible; or to show the world that one has actually been to Timbuktu, or Derby Quad.
Some of the older generations – my own husband for one – will still carefully document the mundane in albums, for the quiet and private delight of a few.
But private or public, where will these images eventually all end up? Either lost for ever on an outdated memory stick, or mouldering unseen in a junk shop.
So will our reality vanish too, whatever the art form…