Ever since I first got a scanner back in 2016, one project I've been wanting to do is to go through and scan/digitize the stacks of family photo albums my mom keeps around in a closet downstairs. The photos mostly cover my childhood and growing up years from the 80s and 90s, though there are some older family photos from even earlier. This year, I finally got started on this project.
As of this writing, I have scanned 769 jpgs. I started around mid-February and just try to scan some photos when I have time, so I think it's a decent rate. However, looking at the stack of albums still in storage, I suspect this is only around 10-15% of the content to be scanned, so I am looking at an effort that may take several years.
I am using an HP3630 printer/scanner, and the accompanying scanner software that HP provides. The software has a "Detect Photos" mode which lets me lay out multiple photos on the scanner bed and it will scan them as separate images. However, I have found this mode quite flaky and often won't separate the photos correctly, necessitating repeated trips to the scanner to adjust and re-scan. After some experimentation, I found a configuration that lets me scan 3 photos at a time and works correctly 95% of the time. I also often have to manually adjust the cropping of each image to avoid too much extra white space around the photo. I am a bit frustrated with how poorly this application works and am half-tempted to try to figure out how to write my own scanning and image processing software to handle the splitting myself! I have also tried some other free scanner software online, but none I tried were better than the HP one. I suppose there may also be some convenient way to scan the photos using a cellphone camera, but I feel like that sacrifices some quality etc compared to an actual scanner.
Most of the later albums hold the photos in sleeves, making them easy to remove and put back. But some of the older albums use pages with an adhesive surface and a plastic cover layer to keep the photos in place (I am probably describing these poorly). For these older albums, I am worried that if I remove the photos I might damage them or otherwise be unable to restore them to their original placement, so I am deferring these for later.
I am also attempting to tag/organize the photos as I scan them, by adding info in the filenames. The most important ones are dates/years, though I also tag obvious events (birthdays, graduations, etc). This means there is some level of detective work involved in trying to deduce when a set of photos were taken. Birthday parties are easy due to the candles on the cake (at least when we were younger), for other sets I'm often reduced to looking for context clues in the background or who is present in the photos etc. Asking my parents directly is often a dead end, as they have trouble remembering exactly when a lot of the gatherings took place.
I am still not sure how to make these scanned photos available to the family at large when the effort is done. Currently I am just storing them in OneDrive, and sharing them via a Plex shared library that lets me show them on the TV downstairs. Ideally I would have a place to share them with extended family members from all over the world. I would like something that is taggable, searchable and filterable and privacy respecting (not Facebook for obvious reasons). At the same time it must be easy to use enough for my parents and other older relatives to browse and possibly share the contents to other platforms, preferably without needing to create new accounts of any sort. It's something I will have to figure out later - and I suspect I will be very tempted to just write some kind of software myself!
Going through older photographs is interesting because compared to our modern era, people had to be a lot more conservative with how they used the limited amount of film they had. So most photos are of special occassions, family events, gatherings with friends, that sort of thing. In the modern Instagram-inspired age we happily take photos of the food we eat and the landscapes we see and the funny things we pass by, but that kind of thing is rare in older photos. It's too bad - I wish I had more photos of things and places from the past, to help us get a better view and memory of how life was back then. These photos contain memories not just of people, but also of old houses that have since been torn down, favorite haunts that no longer exist, toys or memorabilia that we wish we still had and so on.
The process of going through and reviewing the old photos has already made for some interesting family discussions:
- we discovered our current refrigerator is over 20 years old (!!). We found it in pictures from our old house, before we moved to the current one in 2001.
- we were debating with our mom about the layout of our old house, because each of us seemed to remember it just a bit differently. My mom didn't even remember that my brother and I had a separate room before we moved!
- a debate over who were the actual godparents for one of my brothers (because the photo of the ceremony belied my mom's memory) led to my mom telling me about where she had stored a cache of important documents - certainly something good for me to know in case I needed to handle some matters for them down the line! (Those documents are also good candidates for scanning!)
- a lot of trying to remember names and places that were important to us in the olden days.
This whole thing is for me largely an archiving and backup project - a redundancy so that these memories are preserved digitally somewhere in case of some kind of physical disaster affecting the actual photos. We are in an age where taking physical photos is very rarely done, and as time goes on, it is highly likely that many of the physical photos taken during the past decades will be lost in one way or another, so archiving is important. I often wonder what would happen to all these photo albums when my current generation passes. We could pass them to the next generation for keeping, but many of these older memories will be foreign to them and of little value so they are more likely to be disregarded and lost with each passing generation. I am hoping that by finding a way to archive them digitally, I will somehow extend the lifespan of those memories a bit.
It would feel weird to make a post about old photographs and not include any actual photographs. I don't really like publicly posting pictures of other people without their consent, so I can only show a few samples here.
(Click photos to view full-size)