June 23, 2024

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A glimpse into the family photo albums of tomorrow

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Last week, after seeing an exhibition in which all the paintings were set in 1970s Nigeria, I started searching my iPhone for an old photograph of my grandmother that had been digitised and emailed to me years ago by one of my aunts. It’s an image of her at a party and she’s posed — chic and commanding, with bouffant hair and wearing sunglasses indoors — beside a group of seated women. I wanted to show someone her style in early ’70s Nigeria, but it’s also a wonderful photograph because it shows how other women dressed at that time, as well as giving a sense of domestic architecture from that era. It’s a rich image to me for all these reasons.

I’m often looking for this photo and each time I have to scroll through thousands of images on my phone because I haven’t yet created a family “album” folder. I’m old enough to remember when tangible family albums were a common household artefact, at least where I grew up in West Africa. We had stacks of them filled with portrait photographs as well as candid pictures from birthday parties, school performances, Christmas trips to my father’s village, and home visits from friends and extended family. And at random times, one of my siblings or I would pick up an album, open it across our small lap and flip through the thin plastic covered sheets, gazing at memories of our family’s history. Albums were something we shared not just with one another but also with certain visitors who came to the house. It was an unspoken, ritualised way of remembering our stories and telling some of those stories to others. 

Family albums were memories of the past that said something about our individual and collective journey to the present. These days, digital photos and social media accounts are the most common and consistent archives of our lives. Lately I’ve found myself quite nostalgic for the idea…

2023-10-27 17:00:37

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