Preserving Your Family History with Photo Books: Interview with Adrian Wood

Preserving Your Family History with Photo Books: Interview with Adrian Wood

Taking the time to scan in your old photos and turn them into photo books and memoirs is a wonderful way to document your life and preserve your family history for future generations.

There are many ways to get these photographs onto your phone, tablet or computer, and eventually into a photo book. If scanning photos is something you never seem to get around to, our friends at Vintage Photo Lab make the process easy with home collection and return.

To highlight the value of memory books, we spoke with one of our long-time customers Adrian Wood; a Sussex-based photographer and engineer who has been printing his family history books with Bob Books for over ten years.

The books became all the more meaningful for him and his loved ones after his wife developed Alzheimer’s disease. On good days, he says, the photo books work wonders to stir up old memories and provide his wife with some relief as well as the opportunity to reconnect, even if only briefly, with him, their children and their grandchildren.

He was kind enough to share a little of his story with us, as well as a few thoughts on the value of preserving your family history for future generations.

Images © Adrian Wood

Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. Could you start by telling us a little about yourself and how you got started with photography?

I started out with photography at the age of ten, just after the Second World War. My father lent me a camera and I’ve been taking pictures ever since.

I went to school at the London School of Printing and Graphic Arts. After that, I won a scholarship to go to the Shell Petroleum Company and learn professional photography and public relations work.

I worked there for a year, and although they didn’t offer me a job at the end of that period, my interests were already shifting. After having worked in photography for a couple of years, I discovered that being a photographer meant the only thing that mattered was whether the customer liked it or not. You have no real control over the final images, because it’s all in the mind of the person who ordered them.

My other hobby was electronics, so I qualified in that and spent my life making things. In fact, I’m still working. I designed and built some equipment for the oil industry. Sadly, the bits I designed around 20 years ago are no longer available, so I’ve spent the last few years redesigning it so it can be made with present day pieces.

I’ve also got two boys. Both went to university in London and got honours degrees in computer science and maths. They’re both intellectual thinkers, and they help me out now that I’m 83-years-old.

Images © Adrian Wood

We’d love to hear a little about the memory books you’ve made with Bob Books so far and why they’ve become so meaningful for you.

I’ve been designing books with Bob Books for more than ten years now and I make around two or three books a year. Some of them go back a long way.

I realised how many photos I had taken throughout my lifetime and I wanted to do something with them. So I spent a lot of time digitising them all, and I must have over 60,000 on my computer now. But I also had the thought that when I’m eventually gone and the computers have died, there’s going to be nothing left.

So I wanted to take all those pictures and put them into books. So I searched all the different book manufacturers and publishers and I saw lots of good reports on Bob Books, so that’s who I went with.

One of my earliest photo books features photographs of the house I grew up in. We moved there when I was around 12 years old, and it was an amazing house with 17 rooms and a lovely tower and fireplace. I used to do rock climbing on that fireplace as a child.

It was about ten years ago that my wife said to me “You know, I can’t remember very much from my past.” Initially I took no notice of it, but that was the first indication of the Alzheimer’s. When it got worse, we went to the doctors to get assessed. Of course, there’s no such thing as an assessment for Alzheimer’s, because there’s no cure for it.

These days, when I go and see my wife, she takes an interest in the photographs and we go through the pictures and I’ll ask her “Do you remember that?” And she actually remembers a lot of the stuff from long ago in great detail.

When you’re able to show her the books on a good day, she’s actually able to remember quite a lot. So we’ll bring the book out and she will talk about the pictures and sometimes she can even remember names.

When I go there to see my wife with these books, there’s often a whole lounge of ten or more people, and they’ll all gather around and want to know about the books and ask questions about the pictures. I always think what a shame it is that they don’t have their own books like this with pictures of things they did in their youth.

Images © Adrian Wood

Of all the photo books you have created so far, do you have any favourites?

There’s one book I like to show my wife called ‘The Ravaska Family,’ with photos of her Family in Finland from 1966 onwards. My wife is of Finnish origin, and she originally came to England to learn English and study nursing.

Around that time she went on a holiday to Paris and took lots of pictures. But on her nurse’s salary, she couldn’t afford to have them all developed in one go. So every week, she and another Finnish friend of hers would go into a shop to have a roll of film developed.

The shopkeeper was a chap I knew, and he was always trying to get them to go on a date. One day he finally managed to book a double date, so he phoned me up saying “I’ve got a date lined up for tonight with a couple of Finnish women.”

I thought “Why not?” so I went along. The very instant I saw her, I knew I was going to marry her. But she didn’t want to marry an Englishman, and we were going out for about eight years before she finally said “Ok, I’ll marry you.”

So in 1966 we finally went back to Finland to meet her parents. It was a long way in those days. There were a few ferries, but they were very expensive. An overnight ferry from England to Sweden with the car and two passengers cost around £350. Once we got there, of course, I took lots of pictures of her and her and parents and their family. So that’s one of the books we look at now.

My wife prefers to look at the photos in books rather than on the iPad. Books are superb because you can sit there and open it and take your time to talk about the pictures and point things out. I have tried to put captions here and there as well.

Another wonderful book I’ve got is called ‘London in the 1950s.’ I was at College of London in 55 and 56, when London was still a bombsite after the Second World War, so I went everywhere and took thousands of pictures of that. For me it’s a fantastic book, although of course, it’s no good for my wife as there’s nothing personal in it. But it is amazing to have taken pictures around that time.

I’ve also got photos of Battersea Power Station when it was a major London power station. I took around 70 or 80 pictures and had them published in a book in the Bob Bookshop that sold several copies.

Images © Adrian Wood

Do you have any tips on how to make family history books?

In terms of the photo book format, I like square because my main camera in those days was a Hasselblad. They’re the only cameras that have been taken to the moon. I’ve had it since 1959, and it’s still working today and takes perfect pictures. So that’s why I like the square format for the photo books, because my pictures are square.

When it comes to the paper type, I like to print my photos with lustre paper; I like the reflections of it and it matches the brightness range of my images. I also like to make the most of the paper by including large pictures. I see so many books published these days where they have a nice picture in the middle of a piece of paper with two inches of white space on the outside. I always think that’s a bit of a waste.

But, obviously, the main point is to take all your pictures; the snapshots of the children and grandchildren and so forth, and put those in photo books so you can talk about them and stir the memories down the line. The photo books have worked wonders for my wife on a good day. So the main point is that it’s important to print your photos so you can have them to hand rather than on an iPad with a screen that moves around.

Sometimes it’s the pictures that at the time of taking them, you don’t think they’re anything very special. It’s those pictures that later on you feel like “Oh, that’s such an amazing memory.”

To me, it’s a wonderful way of spending my life and passing some history on to next generation. I have four grandchildren and they’re simply amazed at what I’ve done in my life. There’s another big book published in the Bob Bookshop called ‘My Life’s Work’ and it’s about all the different jobs I’ve done.

But to close this off, I’d just like to say that my life has been absolutely wonderful. I’ve done wonderful things, and I’m so pleased that I was a photographer and have it all in pictures. I’m also so pleased that you produce such wonderful books, because they are simply absolute class quality. Photography is timeless, and it’s always fascinated me that you can grab an instant and hold it in eternity.

Want to create your own family history book or memoir? You can read this first-hand account about the process or find some tips and inspiration for creating your own memory books

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