When your cousin can upload 400 pictures from her Tahitian vacation but not find time to whittle them down, do you care too much about her journey? Barbara Levine and Kirsten Jensen’s new book, Around The World: The Grand Tour in Photo Albums takes us back to when travel albums possessed depth instead of breadth, reflections rather than refractions. The pictures selected for this gallery are from Chicagoan Clara E. Whitcomb’s diary, written around the turn of the century during her travels in Egypt.
Barbara Levine runs Project b, a curatorial services and project management company, and is a distinguished collector of antique dexterity puzzles and vintage photograph albums. She was formerly Director of Exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Deputy Director of the Contemporary Jewish Museum.
When did your interest in travel albums begin?
I started collecting photograph albums in 1982. I am interested in how people record memories and tell their personal stories in photograph albums. In my collection I have photograph albums showing all facets of people’s lives. Around The World: The Grand Tour in Photo Albums focuses on travel albums made between 1883-1929.
What’s the oldest you’ve found?
The oldest travel album I have is from 1883. It is the story of a couple’s trip from New York to Ireland, Scotland and England. The album they used is a Victorian Scrapbook and they filled it with ship menus, hotel receipts, and albumen photographs.
Around the turn of the century, what sort of cameras were travelers using?
In 1900, the most popular cameras were Kodak’s Brownie and Autographic cameras. The Monroe Vest Pocket camera was also popular.
How popular was travel as a leisure activity when the camera was invented?
It may be only coincidence that Thomas Cook’s first organized tour occurred only three years after the invention of photography in 1839.
Around The World tells the story of travel albums at a specific moment in time, approximately 1880-1930, a period that saw a rapid rise in tourism, changes in modes of transportation and communication, and the invention of the personal camera. George Eastman introduced the first roll film camera in 1888. The Kodak Camera was a small box camera that came pre-loaded with a 100-exposure film roll; when the roll of film was completed, all you had to do was send the entire apparatus back to Kodak where your film would be developed, new film would be loaded, and everything would be returned to you.
By 1900, Thomas Cook & Son offered around-the-world excursions, there were popular travel guides such as the Baedeker series and Murray’s Handbook, and the Kodak Brownie camera could be purchased for $1.00. Photography and travel as leisure activities were hugely popular and forever intertwined.
Given the ease and popularity of Snapfish and Flickr, do people today taking the same care to document their voyages?
The impulse to document and tell a story of travel experiences today is the same but the tools are now very different. You can simultaneously experience, record, and email your friends about what you are seeing.
Generally speaking we are no longer making material albums that have a long shelf life. We are making albums which are less intimate to view and on small screens or projected on to television sets. If we look together we are crowded around a screen. More importantly, we are making online albums or storing lots of photos on hard drives and servers which will more than likely become obsolete in the near future. I think people are taking the same care to tell the story of their travels but are not thinking about what will become of their travel story in the future. In other words, they are not taking the same care to ensure their memories and experiences of what they saw will be available for future generations.