I Am the Anti-Scrapbook

Another guest post from BCC’s friend S.P. Bailey.

The sight of my sister’s pink tackle box full of scissors–each pair cuts its own little pattern–should not bother me so much. Neither should the stencils or stamps or embossing sets or endless leaves of whimsical stationary. But these things do bother me. A lot.

I wonder if you can help me sort out why. I like folk art. But I guess I would like folk art somewhat less if someone convinced me that scrap-books are the patchwork quilts of today. And I like looking at loved-ones’ snap shots and their most meaningful ephemera–personally significant old news clippings, playbills, etc. Yet the scrap booking I have seen somehow takes the joy out of the scraps. It seems to elevate adornment over substance at every turn. And the prevailing aesthetic of said adornment is not my cup of herbal tea.

Perhaps most obnoxious to me, however, is the sense I get that at least some people think scrap booking is roughly synonymous with doing family history. Of course, snap shots and ephemera may form an integral part of one’s family history. However, without a text that ties pictures and clippings to a narrative, the significance of these things will be lost on future generations. And by “text” and “narrative,” I do not mean cutesy bubble-letter captions stenciled, stamped, embossed, or snipped and glued on colorful stationary.


  1. Imagine if our ancestor’s accounts of their experiences were adorned with little handcart stickers, seagull-shaped doodads, flecks of tar with feathers stuck to them…

    I think our posterity might think we were awfully silly. Of course, I’m afraid I’m not in much of a position to criticize on that front, as much as I’d like to, because I’ve done so little journaling of any sort I’ll be lucky if my posterity thinks of me at all…

  2. S.P., not everyone scrapbooks that way. Lots of it makes me shudder too, but I’ve seen it done classy and when it is, it’s a beautiful thing, definitely art. It’s fascinating to me that “secular” style scrapbooking is such a big part of LDS women’s culture – seems to be recent, and to have a lot to do with marketing – and I agree, its aesthetic qualities leave a lot to be desired, because as you say, often a “page” is more about the medium than the content. But there are some scrapbookers who really try to convey their unique voice & preserve their unique family ephemera in a meaningful way. Like anything, the mass consumption part of it dumbs down the whole project and that’s a shame, because I’d applaud the principle at the core (storytelling and memory).

  3. I thought it was pretty hokey until I saw a scrapbook a woman put together about her family history. She had text (letters, history, recorded statements by ancestors) along with the photos and it was beautifully put together. A real treasure for her family.

  4. I have seen it where the scrapbooking has been way over the top, almost vomit-inducing. BUT, I have also seen them where they tell a wonderful, much like a storybook. And, who is the audience of a scrapbook? My mission scrapbook is pretty much a photo-essay of the mission, and my kids get a kick out of flipping through the pictures, and they now know much more about my mission than I knew about my father’s. For the serious family historians, my mission journal will suffice….I guess. But, for a digestible, quick FHE, the scrapbook comes in handy.

    Plus, if they are done correctly, they will maintain the pictures and letters much better than just keeping them in a box would.

  5. MikeInWeHo says:

    You could become the Ed Decker of scrapbooking, S.P., and maybe produce a film called The Schlock Makers.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    I loved the Sugar Beet article to the effect that BYU was going to start a degree in scrapbooking.

  7. A quick response, since I’m in a hurry. I do scrapbook. I resisted it for a long time since it seemed so tacky and Mormon to me, but as others have said, some people do some very beautiful work and after I saw those, I realized what the attraction is. I used to belong to a totally non-mo group of scrapbookers and paper crafters, but it’s slowly broken up due moves and illness etc. That group did amazing things with calligraphy and hand made papers. Maybe that sounds like a waste of time, but much of it truly is art.

    I also think that some of the criticism of other types of scrapbooking is kind of inter-class snobbery.

    I think that in 50 or 100 years, people will be collecting good scrapbooks the way they collect quilts now. And scrapbooking gettogethers function much the same way that quilting bees used to. The conversation might not be as elevated as that of the blogosphere but it serves a purpose. :)

  8. I know it is not hand made paper, but I still can’t figure out why people don’t use Photoshop and just print the pages of the scrapbook.

    S.P. I heartily agree with your point about text and narrative. I am currently working with my parents to catalog items and have them right a page or so on the history of the item and the broader narrative of their life. Same with some important pictures. It is really a wonderful experience, mostly because it is hard for someone to sit down and write the story of their life, but it is easy to explain something and its context.

  9. I could never scrapbook, and the reason why is because it seems like you’re taking so many of your irreplaceable mementos and making them that much more flammable. It’s like memory tinder. Stresses me out.

  10. S.P. Bailey says:

    Tona, Susan, Hayes, and Paula: Maybe I’ve just been hanging around with the wrong kind of scrapbookers! Do you know of any online examples of the tasteful and artistic scrapbooking you mentioned? Do such scrapbooks include detailed historical narratives?

    Paula: I am a snob, but hopefully not without good arguments. (It did not occur to me that only a certain class might scrapbook. Obtaining and using the paraphernalia does seem to require both money and leisure time.)

  11. I have thought about using Photoshop (there are also some software programs from Hallmark for scrapbooking), but the problem is the ink. Most of us cannot afford the expensive, acid-free ink and paper (and the appropriate printer) and therefore most of our work would not withstand the test of time. But, as the printer’s get better and better, the cost will ultimately go down.

    S.P., I know what you are saying. I used to make fun of others (including my wife), who would have this tackle-box full of scrapbooking gear (I have even seen the equivalent of a handcart, almost like a Scrapbook-mobile). But, I have seen the great things my wife has been able to do with it. The one’s she does are quite tasteful, not over the top, usually done as a travel log (with various pamphlets, ticket-stubs, other odds and ends from trips or events). The kids LOVE their first-year scrapbook, and just pulled it out the other night to show off to the missionaries.

    We are in the military, and move around a lot. It has been a easy icebreaker with neighbors or members who scrap as well. Which, for an officer’s wife, is a big plus.

    She even got me thinking about it, and that’s when I did the one on the mission.

    Sorry, I don’t have any links for some good ones. I imagine some people scan in their pages, and post them on their blogs, or other family websites. I know some people who do it “professionally” for others, which just makes me laugh. The point is to PERSONALIZE the scrapbook.

  12. I think the comparison with quilting is appropriate. There are quilts that are just as warm, sturdy, and useful as they are pretty. There are scrapbooks that are just as informational, accessible, and archival as they are pretty. At the same time there are quilts that are good for nothing but to be hung on the wall and admired, and there are scrapbooks that are good for nothing but to be leafed through and admired.

    I think the difference between the two is best described by the motivation. One can view the hobby as an end in itself or as a means to an end. Those who view it as a means to an end may say “As long as I’m organizing this information I may as well make it look pretty.” These scrapbooks end up being the mission books, and family history resources a few commenters have mentioned. I find goal oriented scrapbooking much more palatable than the other kind, mostly because I’m cheap and if you’re going to do something just for the fun of it, scrapbooking is possibly the most *expensive* thing you could pick.

  13. I have mixed feelings about scrapbooking. Some of the equipment is just crazy

    I do like the mission scrapbook that my wife made for me though.

    I am wondering if some of the anti-scrapbookng feeling is coming from negative feelings towards large sahm affluent families.

  14. Ahhh, the cost, that’s something that definitely bugs me about scrapbooking. If you go through the Amway-esque Creative Memories, you will be shelling out a lot of money.

  15. Printing is cheap especially if done at your local costco… a full page print of your photoshop page is a little more than a dollar. Alot less than most people spend on paper and stickers etc for the pages… look into it. It is a great idea. You can then save your pages in a non flamable method with oodles of back up. You can even use an online storage backup to protect your backups of back ups etc. That way is little sally rips the page you just go print up a new glossy at costco. You could even make it into an something like an iSCRAPBOOK, hey there’s a new one for Steve Jobs! Just an idea. P.S. I love technology.

  16. update 1.49 for a full page. BTW i think it would cost less than acquiring all the scrapbook stuff.

  17. Melissa De Leon Mason says:

    Despite thinking of myself as anti-scrapbook as well (it’s the cuteness factor that repels me), I went to a meeting of my ward’s scrapbooking group hoping to get some ideas so I could finally organize our wedding pictures. I was so taken in by the creativity of the women there that I walked out with my own (pricey) armload of bright papers, stickers, and bizarre little tools, all of which are still sitting in their bag in the closet. Maybe if I start thinking about it as a visual historical narrative and not as a scrapbook, I’ll be able to bring myself to work on it.

    Photoshopping a scrapbook just sounds lame to me.

  18. More “Insider’s View of Mormon Scrapbooking”– There actually is quite a movement toward Digital Scrapbooking– where you just PhotoShop the layout and then either save, or print it out. There’s some incredibly complicated artistic stuff out there.

    I had resisted the whole scrapbooking thing for a long time, even though I’ve always done calligraphy. But after my first trip to England seven years ago, I wanted to do more with the photos than throw in them in a box and forget what they were. So I wandered into a crafts shop and figured out how cool some of the stuff was, and put my photos together with a lot of text about the trip.

    As far as making your irreplaceable mementos inflammable, you’re not supposed to scrapbook the originals– you always should keep a copy somewhere safe.

    As far as the elitism goes, yes, I think it’s there. I live near Camp Pendleton, and a lot of military wives scrapbook. I don’t get the feeling that they are very into the artsy stuff, but I think their books will be pretty meaningful to them, and the time they spend with each other doing them is extremely valuable. I’m a snob too, and think that much of what others do is too kitschy, but maybe in 50 years someone will see the beauty in it, much as we see quilts in a different light than many people in the 60s did. It really is a pricey hobby, if you do much of it. I don’t know how the military wives afford it. Probably a lot of Michael’s coupons, and trading back and forth. I have figured that counting the cost of the photos, and page protectors, you’re usually looking at a minimun of $2.00 for a two page layout, and occasionally some of mine run more like $8-10. But as I said, I’m a snob, and so sometimes I use expensive paper, or lots of photos, which may have been cropped smaller.

    My two closest scrapbooking friends also have advanced degrees, and both of them also work, one of them has no kids and is ex-mo, so not all scrapbookers fit the mold. We do joke to each other about our snobbishness, although especially because one of the group is a kitschy cutesy scrapbooker but we love her anyway.

    By the way S. P. your sister’s fancy scissors are so 2000. That fad’s so over, it may even be coming back a bit. I haven’t used mine for about five years. :)

    I think one interesting thing about the whole phenomenon is that the business is really dominated by Mormon women, nationally, not just in Utah. The women who started and run Creating Keepsakes are from Utah, and incredibly successful, and are rock stars in the national scrapbooking culture.

    As for Creative Memories, that’s the dark tacky underbelly of scrapbooking. I’ve never been to a party, and wouldn’t go if asked.

    I looked quickly for sites, but since I don’t usually use the internet for scrapbooking stuff, I don’t know really where to look. This article does have some photos of a cleaner, more artistic style:

    Here’s a gallery of digital scrapbook layouts:
    I didn’t try to go for very great samples, since I’m in a hurry again, but you can see how complicated some of the layouts get.

  19. This rising tide of scrapbooking backlash is really beginning to concern me. I am a professional scrapbooker and have been for a few years, but I am also a liberal feminist mormon woman, so my natural tendancy is also to chafe against the expectation.

    Just like any hobby or artform, there are many degrees to which it is practiced. Being pretty darn hard core myself, I hate to hear it dismissed by people who have only seen “beginner” scrapbookers, or far far worse in my biased opinion, “Creative Memory” scrapbookers. Creative Memories has a strict philosophy which basically encourages it’s students to put the picture on the page, normally cut into a cute shape, with a few bright colors and stickers and simple journalling. Their goal is only preservation. Getting the pictures out of the box and onto acid free paper. And of course to buy as much of their stuff as possible.

    Others, and this is what I aim for, make each page a work of art, use each page to tell a story about the day to day life we lead. I frequently make a page without any pictures at all because it’s taken up with text.

    When this is my aim, it’s hard to always see scrapbooking dismissed as a mindless hobby of the suburban sheep.

    Here’s my portfolio for those curious about what I’m talking about: http://www.tresaedmunds.com/scrapbooking

    Two other brief points – loads of people photoshop their scrapbook pages. There are even magazines out explaining how to do it. You can even buy jpegs of patterned paper and other embellishments. Also, some people with more money than creativity or interest do pay to have their scrapbooks done, but the same work goes into it, I spend hours interviewing to gather their family stories and include those in the book.

    Now that I’ve thoroughly defended my position…let me suggest why I think scrapbooking is really so looked down on. I think scrapbooking has become one more thing our culture of mormondom pressures us to accomplish. It has become the canning and homemade bread of our generation. Scrapbooking is my passion and it is wonderful, but I never would do it just because I felt I was supposed to. One of my close friends nearly abandoned scrapbooking all together this year because she was getting no joy from it. She just felt like it was one more thing she had to do to be a good mom and she could never get “caught up.” After a few discussions of our motivations and what we got out of the hobby, she decided to stick with it, but move in an entirely different direction. Now she only scrapbooks the meaningful moments and tells the stories behind them. Instead of memoralizing every trip to the zoo, now she’ll scrapbook a game she played with her son and a time they shared together. I can’t remember the last time I scrapbooked a birthday, because the things I want to remember don’t seem to happen then. I scrapbook what I love about my husband, and my political beliefs, and our goals for the future.

  20. Ben,

    I’m writing a program like that (though not in the scrap book model, per se) right now for my own family history stuff. I like the fact that I can have audio and video in addition to the pictures and text. It’s random access, so I can find what I want right now. I can search text (or my descriptions of images, audio, video). I can print all the copies I want of the pictures and text, and when the acid in the paper or ink make it look bad, I print another copy. I can make all the CD/DVDs I want to share. It would also be very easy to write a feature into it that would port, to the web. Instant family history web site.

  21. I think it is a great idea too. I compile all my photos digitally and scrapbook er compile them I set them to music withtext etc essentially i make videos of them. Divided into chapters etc. You can pop them in the player and go to what you are looking for. I beleive in editing (not censoring) family photos and especially videos. I like to leave in what makes you and your family unique. not bland like everyone else i.e. hallmark etc.

  22. jothegrill says:

    I tried scrapbooking once for a laurel project way back when, and I HATED it. I still hate it. And I hate that one of the only activities that my neighbors and ward members would invite me to was scrapbooking night. But I’ve found a solution. I invite them over to let our kids run wild together while we visit and eat. I think it serves a good purpose nourishing our bodies and spirits, and I don’t feel so isolated anymore because of my craftiness impairment.

  23. My wife uses a program called Memory Mixer, it can be used on the Mac or PC. It’s like a Photoshop-lite. You can add photos, choose paper, and add embellishments. Then you can either send it to be printed, print yourself, or save it as a digital scrapbook. The digital scrapbook is pretty cool, she can add audio clips, video, etc and it’s kind of fun to look at.

    She tried doing it the other way, but hated how much money it was costing, and how hard it was to come up with good ideas.

  24. Ardis Parshall says:

    I viewed a lot of the pages in the links given in these comments, to see whether my experience with scrapbooking was was too limited to justify my feeling that scrapbooking is utterly wasteful, from an information preservation standpoint.

    While I can see that many of the pages are pretty, with interesting textures and clever arrangements, done as professionally as an art poster, they confirm my worst fears about scrapbooks as media for transmitting memories to anyone but the one who compiled the page. I could get no sense of the people whose lives were supposedly documented by those pages — if they were my ancestors, I would know nothing about them.

    I looked at one page about kittens, for instance. The journaling was nicely philosophical, but it told me nothing about the writer and could have been written by or for anyone at all. It could even have been the text of a greeting card. I wanted to know who the people in the pictures were, where they got the kittens, why those chose those particular ones, what cute things had happened since the kittens joined the family, whether or not anybody sneezed when they were brought home, whether there was any dispute about getting the kittens, or letting them sleep on the beds — something, anything, that would give me an insight into the lives of these people had they been my great-grandparents. Nothing. My reaction was the same for all the pages I looked at.

    Lovely to look at, perhaps rewarding and memory-provoking for the compiler, but an absolute zero as a method of transmitting any sense of the lives involved. If I ran out of a burning house, I wouldn’t stop to pick up the scrapbooks.

  25. Trust me! Go to “Passage Express” for manly Mormon Scapbooking for Family history.

  26. S.P. Bailey says:

    Ardis: I hear you. It turns out there is good-looking scrap-booking. And I can imagine scrapbooks that incorporate real family history. But how often do both come together? All I’ve seen tells me that it’s rare.

    Clearly, scrapbooking = big commerce/consumption. How many have observed how much they spend on it? (And how many have come out of the woodwork to market themselves?) Does that tell us something about the emphasis family history gets in scrapbooking? Afterall, journal-keeping and oral-history-compiling is virtually free!

  27. My scrapbooks consist of a photo taped to a page next to a handwritten explanation about the event and people. It’s very functional, and not cute. But it gets the pictures off the computer and out of the box and into a book that family can flip through, complete with explanations.

    I agree with the comparison to quilting. It’s a fun chance to get together, keep your hands busy, have a readymade topic of conversation, and just spend some time with other women. Mostly I just look at what everyone else is doing because I have no desire to make my scrapbook cute. But I like telling others how creative they are.

  28. Ardis:

    You have to remember there is such a thing as context. If every single page merely told every single exhaustive detail, it would be a journal. This is a balance between a journal and a snapshot. It’s a snapshot of journaling. And by flipping through a book of snapshots, a sense of the person emerges.

  29. Scrapbooks allow us to journal with photographs when we don’t have the words to express the love, pride or other emotions that are in our hearts. My style or sense of aesthetics may not mirror yours, but that does not make those books any less precious to my children or posterity. When my adult children come home, they invariably turn to the heavily laden shelves of scrapbooks, photograph albums and videotapes as a way to reconnect with their parents and siblings, and to teach their own children about being a member of this family. My scrapbooks are worth the time, energy, and embarrassing cutesy details because they encourage my family to remember and to pass down their family traditions. Family history is supposed to link the generations together and since my scrapbooks do that, I consider them a legitimate form of genealogical expression. To criticize someone else’s scrapbook style is like criticizing their choice of potato salad vs coleslaw at the family reunion. Who cares what food is on the menu if it fills the emptiness?

  30. Two words: Shutterfly, baby. You can print up a book with digital pictures, and design it however you like. No stickers, no cutting, no glueing, and it lasts forever. I’m a fan.

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