Scrapbooks: the social media of yesteryear?

As we approach the prime time for summer vacation, social media is inundated with photos of everyone’s travels and adventures. These days, sharing those photos is a matter of posting them online and waiting for the likes and comments to roll in (and avoiding them just involves scrolling past), but before we were all glued to our screens, people used glue to put together photo albums and scrapbooks to preserve their memories.

Katharine “Kay” Reichert spent two years in Japan in the Air Force Nurse Corps during the Korean War and she took tons of photographs during that time. She was a dedicated amateur photographer and many of her photos have notes on the back about lighting, focus, filters, or, unfortunately, the roll of film getting exposed. In her collection are 5 photo albums filled with snapshots of her friends/co-workers, scenes around the Johnson and Shiroi Air Bases, other people she met, and places she visited around Japan.

I find these photos kind of fascinating because even though the dates show that they were taken during the war, the notes say they were taken on an air force base, and many of the subjects are wearing military uniforms, the war does not seem to be present in most (if any) of the photos. These are just snapshots of friends spending time together – goofing off in the yard, cooking dinner, having parties, going on trips, etc. There are travel photos and pictures of cats and dogs, and snaps of Kay’s beloved car. They’re the kinds of photos that I took when I got my first camera as a kid. They’re the kinds of photos I still take now when I get together with friends.

These parallels are even more evident when looking at the little notes on the back of some of the snapshots. Many photos only have the date and/or location on the back. Some also have identifying information like “Ginger” or “Kathy” or “Mary and Me,” but sometimes there are funny little comments as well and these are gold. They remind me of comments people might offer when posting images on social media.

And when you think about it, photo albums and scrapbooks are sort of like the social media of yesteryear. They serve a similar purpose in that they aggregate the photos and memorabilia from everyday life and special occasions and allow us to provide captions and commentary. Of course, now we can do this almost instantly, whereas these albums required a significant amount of time and effort to put together. The trade-off is that a scrapbook or album is a beautiful physical object with added sentimental value. Unfortunately, although these albums preserve the memories, the physical component can actually make accessing the identifying information more difficult.

I have a pet theory that Kay was sending these photos home periodically to her parents and the notes on the back were for their benefit, not hers. That she was trying to give them a glimpse into her everyday life and introduce them to her group of goofy friends via the photos she took. After all, she knew who her friends were. It wouldn’t matter if she couldn’t see the names on the back of the photos in the albums.


The sign at her feet in the picture says “It’s good to be home again to wish you A Merry Christmas Kay” and she has written at the bottom “There’s no place like home for Christmas. I think I have the best home & parents in the world — Japan included K.”

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