Monday, 4 November 2013


In my family home I have a set of shelves at the end of my bed. They solidly bear the weight of numerous offcuts of vintage fabric, old books, art materials, notebooks, DVDs, boxes and boxes of images and scrapbooks. Bits and bobs. Anything with a bit of visual or decorative possibility. The wonky stacks suggest the potential for severe bruises if something were yanked from the bottom of a pile. Yet I can still extricate my scrapbooks. Most of them are those cheap ones with cartoon covers, usually to be found in bargain aisles. But there are several older relics with musty sugar paper and elaborate fonts.

The skin of each scrapbook may be different, but all lean towards a common purpose – the collection of unlikely images. The pages yield photos of Brigit Bardot, haphazardly sellotaped next to a sixties snapshot from an unknown wedding. The bride is wearing a dress short enough to cause embarrassment in a breeze, and appears to be either sneezing or closing her eyes happily. She and her similarly clad bridesmaid are out of place among the women surrounding them – the long coats and formal hats implying that the mother and aunts of the bride are from a quite different generation. The effect is amusing, made all the more intriguing in the juxtaposition with Bardot.

I like the label ‘scrapbook.’ It suggests the small revelry of scraps and oddments; the ability to take something as transient as a newspaper clipping and give it permanence when it’s sellotaped down next to a postcard from the National Gallery. There are pages ripped from magazines, theatre flyers, letters, leaflets, adverts and labels. A grubby train ticket can be super-imposed on a fashion shoot with a model in an orange dress. The slightly obsessive element lies in this careful process of arranging.  

My method of choice is to put on music or a favourite comedy series, flood my carpet with the collected images and spend time choosing, cutting and sticking. The scrapbooks gradually thicken as Irving Penn is placed alongside a skeleton and some withered roses. This methodical process may result in a sore back, but also in an easily stored visual museum. Where else would a Gustav Klimt face off Sasha Pivarova in Vivienne Westwood? The juxtapositions can be shocking, or strangely complimentary. Decades, mixed-media and individuals become companions on a page.

A few years ago a neighbour in my village lent me three scrapbooks. They had been lovingly put together when she was young; the shapes of teddy bears and dolls meticulously cut out and gummed down. Among the archaic adverts and crayon squiggles, there were extraordinary images – a model’s head surrounded by technicolour flower petals, and photojournalism from world events that are now taught as history in secondary schools. Much like finding an inscription in the front of an old book, it felt like a privilege to catch a glimpse into a personal past, interests and memories laid out between the covers.

We keep flowers by pressing them, and a lepidopterist can preserve a rare butterfly and put it on display. However, we have become so over-loaded with visuals that images are not something to be revered or conserved any more – they are easily discarded and replaced. The first permanent photograph was taken in 1826 (with much history preceding that), and yet now every mobile phone can capture moments and events of our choosing. There are obvious advantages to this, but at the same time it seems that photography is no longer appreciated so much as a professional medium. It's harder to earn money from the profession, with fewer commissions and more vying for each job.

The skills needed to really capture personality in a portrait are hard-won. They involve not only the technical ability and eye for light, composition and colour, but also sensitivity to others’ characters and the ability to put a subject at ease. A natural, authentic photo must be caught under often artificial conditions (if it's a sitting), or unpredictable ones (if out and about). For, as Henri Cartier-Bresson once said, the role of a photographer is to “preserve life in the act of living”. If those photographers preserve life, then we in turn must preserve their photos and the legacy they bear – whether through buying  books of their work or by hiding a little of the essence between the pages of a scrapbook.

The spreads from some of my scrapbooks below seemed to reflect the lazy ease of my vintage silk Laura Ashley shirt dress above - impractical (as usual) for walking but perfect to wander along a weir. Here it is worn with a vintage patent leather belt that belonged to my grandma, and a rather delicious red cardigan from a charity shop. The blue trilby is also second hand. Perhaps it's the recent relocation to a city that means I'm currently craving the sights of rural autumn. 



Closet Fashionista said...

I haven't scrapbooked in so long, but I used to love it so much. I had a Harry Potter one and would just keep a folder of fashion stuff. And then I would make scrapbooks with family photos too, but now I'm lazy and I just buy the photo sleeve books, ha ha

Melanie said...

Wistful is the word that springs to mind from these photos of you; woman born of your environment. It must be wonderful flipping through your scrapbooks. And yes, I see photography as an artform in flux, the affordability or could even democratiziation(?) of the hardware creates a throwaway ease. I see that in the music business too. Great read, as always.

Sarah said...

I love these photos and your scrapbooks are lovely!

x Sarah


The bold orange and blue is such a smart colour combination ith yoru natural environment. Of course since you're missing your rural autumn surroundings, it's the perfect antidote for wanted fall inspiration. I still create collages or scrapbooks rather just as when I was designing menswear. Hand cut and pasted visuals always helps me! :)

Daniella Golden said...

I love the composition of the first photo in this post, with the plants framing you!

I think you are completely right about preserving and treasuring photos in a way that's personal to the person making the scrapbook. The process of cutting and sticking is also such a relaxing thing to do. It looks far more authentic too rather than if it was stitched together on the internet.

Just wanted to say I always enjoy reading your posts and the topics you discuss!

Daniella x

Tabet said...

I really like this pictures! Beautiful!

Vix said...

Melanie's got it spot on, wistful is the perfect description!
I used to love a scrapbook, I recently came across one my Mum had made as a little girl! x

Lydia Armstrong said...

Your scrapbooks are amazing and super inspirational. I used to make books like these when I was a kid. Now I just keep pages from magazines in plastic sleeves and binders, but I am totally wanting your way instead.

Jean at said...

Like Melanie, I likened this to the music business as well. It's interesting; my first husband was a photographer and my second is a musician. I've seen their respective art forms drastically changed in a decade or so, never mind the economic trajectory of said careers. Fortunately I don't care too much about the fame and fortune part. I'm much more interested in the integrity of the art.

I've never scrapbooked but my head seems to be one. Yours are interesting and it must be delightful and evocative to go back, seeing what images struck you at a given time and how you combined them.

I actually loved reading your labels at the bottom of this post. Art, books, green, hats, past, photography, scrapbook, silk, water, writing. They are a kind of scrapbook in themselves and I love the pictures they bring to my mind, magical and surreal.

You're lovely, as always. Hope you're enjoying "the city"!! XXOO

the Citizen Rosebud said...

In a previous life dedicated to more personal creative expression I keep scrapbooks very similar to yours and your friends. What a lovely wander down memory lane- part day dream, and part surreal theatre, these images mingle the ordinary day to day thought with a breath of fresh air, as a child blows the dandilions crown off to explore the universe and fulfill wishes.

Caz S. said...

A wonderful post. Sadly, modern scrap booking has been transformed into a little something called Tumblr. I'm glad there are still some people in the world that like to do it the traditional way. x

Anonymous said...

One of the things I miss most from university/college is keeping sketchbooks, which, to me, are like scrapbooks on acid - annotations, collages, drawings and sample of fabric - making each one was the culmination of a project or idea and I wish I had more time to to make them now.

I guess the modern equivalent is Pinterest but it's not the same as half the fun is the process of putting a scrapbook together.

Anonymous said...

I still keep paper scrapbooks and in my garden writing shed have shelves filled with them. The clippings inspire many stories and it’s fascinating to peruse them because it gives you such an understanding of how times change and how the newsmakers of yesteryear can drift away so quickly from public record. We are so saturated with online images that it’s so much more relaxing to have a tactile book that you can absorb at a depth impossible to maintain with Pinterest or Tumblr. Love your blog as always. Can't imagine you in the city as I can in your English village.xx

Madeline said...

I love your scrapbooks, I feel like I keep lots of things, like bits of paper from my life and here and there but seldom out them in scrapbooks - I feel like I should! I sort of had a scrap book that was also a journal while I was traveling this year - because I would keep tickets and pamphlets and maps, I stuck them all into my book

Damianne Langedijk said...

amazing photo's!

Anupriya DG said...

I love how the pages of scrapbooks can tell entire stories about the person whose handiwork it is....also, we can immortalise objects, moments, incidents, beauty, everything in those little bits of odds & ends stuck on those crammed pages! It's something magical & enchanting....isn't it??? :)

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