A fun idea for turning photos into wall art

Having organised photos and set up a system for keeping memories updated and easy to access, I’ve been looking at ways to display photos of events and loved ones. I’ve been struck by Author and Photographer Beth Jennings and her philosophy when she said “the planning bit is not the fun bit. The fun bit is commemorating lives. Once you’ve done the cataloguing, you can get on with the remembering.” The better half and I have moved house recently and considering the walls are still quite bare, we’ve been considering options to fill them.

I was recently introducPreserving_memories_with_digital_photo_arted to PosterCandy, an Australian service that allows users to take a selection of their photos to build and create posters. It’s relatively straightforward and easy to use, offering standardised poster templates ranging in size from 18x24cm to 84cmx119cm that you can populate with your images. The end result is a type of photo mosaic.

There are some customisable options such as colour of poster surround and flexibility around the number of photos that you can include within the poster. But it’s your images or photos that make the poster striking. You select photos either by uploading from a folder from your laptop or device or alternatively by directly uploading images from social media accounts Facebook and Instagram. Then you drag and drop them into your chosen template, moving them around until you have the result that you’re looking for.

Once designed, you pay PosterCandy to print the poster and mail to you within 3-5 days in Australia or up to 10 days for worldwide postage.

Having recently gotten hitched, I decided to design a poster that told a timeline story of our weekend away wedding. Choosing the 70cmx100cm size, I selected to include 70 photos although you can select up to 176 images in this size. In the largest poster size, you can include up to 368 images.

It’s a matter of personal choice but I opted for the smaller number of photos to save on time and complexity for a first attempt, 70 photos still being a sizeable number. More importantly though, the more photos that you include, the more difficult they are to see individually given that they would be a lot smaller. Ultimately, it depends on what you’re trying to achieve and for each poster size, there are a generous 3-5 options.

Here’s the final result that I’m very happy with. I also enjoyed the lollies that were included in the package. Cute.

Preserving_digital_memories_using_photo_artOverall, if you’re looking for a reasonably priced service with a quick turn around — from AU$15.00 to AU$99 for the largest size poster plus approximately $13 for postage — I’d recommend this. The poster tells the story of our wedding weekend very well, looks glossy and great and doesn’t need a large amount of technical expertise to get started or complete.

Couple of things to bear in mind when using PosterCandy…

Design Tips

If you’ve started designing a poster and saved it to return to later, it’s not immediately clear how to re-discover your saved template. You can do this by going to ‘Create Now’ on the homepage as if you are starting the poster creation process from scratch. In the toolbar at the bottom right of the page, there’s an option called ‘Load’. This leads to your previously saved poster versions.

Be very careful before hitting the clear button! In the early stages, I hit it thinking that I would be clearing a single photo tile within the poster. It actually deletes all photos for you to start again without a query to confirm that you are sure. In this situation, you can retrieve lost work by hitting the back button (arrow) in the tool bar to undo this deletion. There’s also a redo button if you want to compare and contrast.

Make any alterations to your images before uploading to PosterCandy. The software doesn’t offer the ability to edit photos aside from cropping which makes the postPreserving_digital_memories_using_photo_arter creation process quite straightforward. It assumes that you are working with final photo versions.

There are a couple of fun additional features. Select ‘Jumble’ if you want the software to jumble the images that you’ve placed in a template. You can do this several times until you get the effect you’re looking for. It wasn’t initially obvious what the ‘Randomise’ feature did but on playing with the program, I noticed that this option auto-populated a selection of photos from my Instagram and Facebook accounts. Hopefully, PosterCandy includes a little more explanation around this feature, including how to select a specific photo range, in future versions.

Away For A Bit had fun with the making of this poster courtesy of PosterCandy.

Sorting out photos requires a good system

photos_digital_afterlife_memories_organise

Organising photos is a challenge. It’s easy to capture spontaneous moments that hang around in a phone or somewhere in a laptop folder to deal with another time.

Years later, you have pockets of squirrelled away memories on multiple devices and in boxes under the stairs. These are accompanied by a growing unease gently etching away in the back of your mind that sorting out these digital and print moments in time is a task that a) is going to be overwhelming or b) is likely to be insurmountable and won’t get done at all.

Maybe that was just me.

I smugly say ‘was’ because after years and months of procrastination, I finally got around to organising my hoarded past. It was about a year ago that I started the process, organising through 40 years of family memories after DBS died. Here are some thoughts on how to go about it if a similar project has been quietly nagging you.

 

Think through your process from the outset

A logical man once told me that when setting up something, a disorganised system is an oxymoron. The point here is that it’s best to think from the beginning about the entire process of how to back up and keep your photography updated and stored, both now and for the future.

For instance, before you start digitising old prints from your childhood think about the naming conventions for each file and the way in which you want to order your collection so that they are easily retrievable later. Have your filing system in place as you scan. It will save you a lot of time. Unfortunately, on one occasion I was so carried away by an unusual burst of motivation to digitise old photos and reminisce, I didn’t think a naming or filing process through from the outset, instead casually naming them on the go.

It later meant going through all the scanned files again and renaming them, a boring, time consuming task which took as long (or perhaps longer) than the initial process. It was during this palaver that the logical man irritatingly offered his words of wisdom. Later, I married him. Very romantic.

“We need a good system so that we can get on and enjoy the content,” says Beth Jennings, Photographer and Author of Memories at your Fingertips. “You need to push yourself to set one up so that over time, filing and storing new photos is an automatic process. Like driving a car.”

 

The basis of a good system

“It’s important to have one place and one place only where you keep photos,” Jennings says. “This is where you store all photos including those downloaded from a phone or laptop.”

Once you’ve set up this catalogue, this is where everything is centralised and regularly updated with photos, whether they be from a camera, phone or tablet.

“Then within the catalogue, have a few broad categories,” she adds. “Not too many folders at the beginning though. Too many options can make you forget where you store things as you are spreading photos too thinly. Start with five.”

Jennings suggested some categories that I’ve largely taken on board:

  • Destinations > Countries
  • Personal
  • Portrait > Family / People
  • Weddings
  • Work > Projects

Within those, file photos by year, name or event. So for instance, under ‘Portraits’ I might file DBS’ school photos by: Portrait – DBS – School – 5-10years.

Munir Kotadia, a Photographer and Videographer from Tech TV also suggests including spaces or hyphens when naming separate files with clear, easy to recall key words which will help you within the search function on the platform you are using. This means it’s more likely that you’ll be able to find the image you stored away if you remember an event but not the year you saved it in (for instance).

 

Other Words of Wisdom

I often take several photos at one time of a place or event, ‘just in case.’ Jennings suggests deleting photos before they get to the computer.

“You won’t miss bad or rubbish shots because you’ll have an edited selection in your system.” Taking her advice certainly makes the editing, filing and naming process quicker.

She also recommends backing up the photo catalogue with new uploads straight away so you’ve always got the latest library saved on another hard drive (or even more depending on their importance).

 

Next

There’s something greatly satisfying about fronting and completing a task that has been in mind for a while. I’ve got a good system in place though there’s always room for improvement and keeping it updated is not yet an automatic behaviour. The doing is not an end in itself however. As Jennings says, “the planning bit is not the fun bit. The fun bit is commemorating lives. Once you’ve done the cataloguing, you can get on with the remembering.”

That does sound fun. There are a lot of reasonably priced photo displaying alternatives out there worth an investigation. Notepads, photo albums, posters…

Do you have any other recommendations or suggestions for storing and filing photos? What works for you?

Remembering DBS

It was a happy day but also so sad. You would have been in your kilt or your military suit. No matter which, I imagined you chatting up all the Ladies. No one was safe from your Capturing_memories and digital afterlifecharm.

When talking to someone you made them feel like the centre of the universe. They had your full attention, you didn’t allow yourself to be distracted. Many people have mentioned this to me wistfully now that you’re gone.

I missed your wit and funny voices. The way you’d ignore cock-ups and smile on a situation. Your willingness to relish every moment and make it count.

Even though you weren’t there, you were. Everywhere.

Is digital eroding our past?

Our new digital identities mostly exist in the hands of third parties and for many these days, memories reside in email and social media. Our mementos of events are digital photographs, or a casual comment posted online. These seem fleeting in the moment, but can quickly gain significance as life changes occur. While we assume their digital nature makes them always accessible, they may not end up being everlasting.

The people in our family have always hoarded personal mementos. Correspondence, photos, interesting lists, old membership cards and random but significant bits of paper – we have thrown these haphazard fragments of personal history into cardboard boxes, under beds and in drawers. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been sorting through forty years of these memory boxes.

Among them, I discovered perhaps the first recorded account of my thirteen year old self winding up my five year old brother. I was at boarding school at the time, and written letters were my main connection to home. The distance taught us the value of letter writing, between each other, family and friends. Given that we kept most of these letters, I was able to eventually piece together this incident from three perspectives, with letters from my mother providing a third perspective. His response to my paper trolling was assertive while at the same time, totally adorable and generous. And my mother’s intervention demonstrated her humorous side in how she decided to adjudicate the situation.

Preserving memories_ written v. digital afterlife

Looking back on correspondence from the past has been fun, comforting and enlightening. It documents so much about our family and our relationships with each other. Old letters have been a joy to look through and reminisce over, sometimes providing a reminder of situations that I hadn’t thought about for years. Sometimes, they recount events that I have no memory of at all.

I’m not sure when I stopped writing letters, however my brother continued to be an avid correspondent with ink and paper.

It was a significant occasion when he got his first email account as I had been encouraging him to do so for a while. In one of his many boxes, I uncovered a printed copy of our first email conversation from the late 1990s.

The email address I was using at that time was also my first email account, which until a fortnight or so ago I hadn’t thought about in ten years. But after trying to access it again to look for any other emails between us, I discovered that the email provider had been acquired, renamed and that my account no longer existed.

Not only have I lost this period of history, I’ve lost messages from the future. For example, at the opening of the London Millennium Dome, visitors were asked to provide their email addresses accompanied by a short message before leaving the exhibition. The Dome said they would send these notes back to their owners decades later as a reminder of what they had been thinking about that day.

I won’t receive that obnoxious message from my younger self outlining what a disappointment I felt the Dome had been and I suspect few of the thousands of visitors to the Dome will receive theirs. Given most people will have changed their email address at least once since then, I imagine the bounce rate on that particular mailout – if they even bother – will be close to 100%. Yet in my boxes of memories I still have the postcard and novelty over sized pencil that I bought from the Dome gift shop, items that on face value are junk but they’ve served a purpose of sparking distinct memories of that day.

Preserving memories_written v digital afterlife

My point is that I’ve consistently kept physical mementos, while I haven’t applied the same consideration to digital history and correspondence. I have a rich mine of private correspondence which provides a recorded history up to my early 20s. But as soon as I moved to email, it almost immediately runs dry, as my communications quickly moved online.

A fifteen year gap to now clearly demonstrates a casual attitude toward personal email archiving. Of course, notes and correspondence have been captured in other ways, for instance on Facebook and even MySpace walls or apps such as Foursquare or Twitter. But these tend to be public interactions so their nature is less personal.

In the past decade, I’ve moved from Caramail to Hotmail to Yahoo to Gmail for social use, as well as a multitude of work email addresses. Unfortunately, some of these accounts are now lost and no longer accessible. The speed in which technology platforms change means that it’s important to archive personal conversations as they happen. Today Facebook and Gmail might seem immortal, but there’s every reason to question whether they’ll still be around in a decade. Or whether they’ll make it easy to uncover these past memories. Their purpose may be entirely different.

While I’m not suggesting that every single personal email conversation must be stored, this recent archiving experience has highlighted the value of a system – even one that is chaotic and ad-hoc – to continually capture personal messages and notes so they aren’t lost to my future self. A new way of communicating requires a new way of archiving. For the email accounts I can still access, I plan to rummage through them like old cardboard boxes and recover personal conversations. Maybe, I’ll be able to re-connect with people from the past.

If you do a search on email archiving, there’s plenty of advice on how to manage old accounts and email management. Here’s a wrap of articles that I’ve found useful. If you have other tips to add, please do so below. All ideas are welcome.

The pen v. the keyboard and privacy in death

A few weeks after my brother’s death, Mum and Dad received eight large cardboard boxes of his personal effects from where he was stationed in Afghanistan as well as from his UK base living quarters. His laptop was included amongst these.

We had and still have an insatiable desire to find out more about him, piecing together strands of his life story like a jigsaw puzzle as we look through old photos and have conversations with his friends.

Our curiosity extended to his laptop but at the same time, we felt uncertain about whether we should look into its contents. The existence of a username and password on a laptop changes the way that you feel about accessing someone’s information contained within, whether they are alive or not. It’s generally considered taboo.

We wouldn’t have thought less of him, regardless of (almost) anything we discovered.  Our concern was though, would he have wanted his family or friends to know what was beyond his screensaver? He was rigorous about changing passwords frequently.

Despite our initial reticence, our solution was to ask an acquaintance who didn’t know him to crack into and look through the laptop’s content, deciphering what he might have wanted to share with family or friends and what he was more likely to want to remain private. That way, conversations, photos, old internet searches, notes and chat via apps such as WhatApp that he may have wanted to stay confidential, remained confidential.

It seemed to be a good compromise.  We could continue to find out more about my brother’s adventures through previewed items such as photos or snapshots of his most recent selections in music and movies via download histories or databases. Meanwhile, we felt he kept his dignity.

I considered it a straightforward process and thought that would be the end of the matter.  That is until over time, more and more belongings were unpacked and we discovered his diaries.

My brother was a meticulous note taker and asides from the occasional lapse, a writer of regular diary entries.  He had notebooks that came back from Afghanistan, his various postings as well as journals from his London work life and school days. As soon as we discovered these, I realised we had assessed his digital memoires very differently from the ones he jotted down on paper.

He wrote several online notes and entries on his laptop, usually in note taking programs or in word documents. Initially I felt that we should avoid or wipe these, perhaps because in my mind they seemed off limits and were less structured. By comparison, it hadn’t occurred to me that we should destroy his penmanship.

The online entries fortunately survived and both laptop and handwritten entries remain mostly unread.  But a conundrum remains.

Currently I’m contemplating whether or not it’s okay to read a person’s private thoughts when they are gone regardless of where they are written.

Diaries are often read and published post-mortem. In an informal poll with friends and family, their response tends to be that it is a question of personal choice whether or not you read the inner thoughts of someone close when they’ve gone.

Not having spoken with him about his views on the matter and in the absence of any last wish guidance, my opinion wavers regularly. However, whatever the outcome, his thoughts from the laptop will have equal weight.

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