I never planned to be a professional photo organizer. I always wanted to be a teacher and a novelist. Read my story to see how the surprising twist is actually the logical result of my passionate beliefs about children and families.
I’ve been offering photo solutions for almost 20 years and in that time I’ve worked with some amazing clients. Also over that time technology changed, life changed, and the ways in which I can help people has changed.
For those of you who don’t know how I became a professional photo manager, I thought I’d break it down for you below. Whoever you turn your photo memories over to gets to peek into your life. Isn’t it worth you getting a peak into the life of the person peeking at yours?
I think so.
The Beginning Before the Beginning
Long before I started my photo management business I was an early childhood educator for many years. I loved my students, like any good teacher does. And I was constantly taking pictures of them working in the classroom. This was in the days of film cameras. I always ordered duplicates so I could keep one set for myself and use the other set to create construction-paper books of our classroom activities for the children to “read.” I made sure to print their names in the books and to place short captions under each picture. I would also write longer stories about their activities which they would ask me to read out loud. And sometimes I would have them tell me the stories and I would write THEIR words down about the photos.
Then I had my daughter, Robyn, in 1990. As much as I loved my students, I really wanted to be with her, my only child. When she was 1-1/2 years old I was able to become a stay-at-home mom while offering child care for other children. Again I took lots of pictures and made lots of books for the children. They loved them, and I knew it was good for their self esteem as well as pre-reading skills.
Introduction to Scrapbooking
In 1994 I attended a Creative Memories class where I learned about scrapbooking. I felt I’d found the holy grail because I had a 5-drawer dresser crammed full of photos in the store envelopes by this time. Not just the four years of Robyn’s life, but the nine years of marriage before she was born. And all my students over the years, of course.
Scrapbooking – the way it was taught in the class – was about writing down the stories that went with the photos. Yes, there were stickers and colored paper and I cut photos into all kinds of crazy shapes for a short while. But the focus was on journaling the stories so that they would never be forgotten. In fact, we didn’t even call them scrapbooks then – we called them photo albums. In any case, I found a way to turn my construction paper creations into something just as meaningful, but better designed and longer lasting.
One month after attending the Creative Memories class my mother suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, was in a coma for 3 weeks, and then died. This devastated my father. He opened up a closet and showed me at least 10 paper grocery sacks filled with photos still in their store envelopes. He asked me to make something for the memorial service, so I used my new skills and tools to create a display showing photos of my mother from childhood until shortly before her death. I received many heartfelt comments on it from the attendees of the service.
Scrapbooking Created Community
One of the best things that came out of the scrapbooking era was community. My Creative Memories consultant would hold workshops, and for a small fee we could gather together in her home to work on our albums. I made new friends, I learned new techniques from other scrappers as well as the consultant, and I got away from my own duties at home for a short while. We didn’t all have the same values, but we all valued our families and the photos we took of them. I loved being part of this community where, together, we celebrated our memories.
Changes in the Scrapbooking Industry
When I first started scrapbooking the only places I could get the photo-safe supplies I needed was from my Creative Memories Consultant. Sometimes I could find equivalent supplies in stationary stores, but not often. Within a couple years, though, I found scrapbooking supplies in hobby stores, department stores, and in little scrapbooking stores popping up all over the place.
At first I was elated with so many new designs to consider. But as time went on I realized that most of the supplies that the stores were selling took the focus off the photos and stories and put it on the decorations, and that just didn’t appeal to me. In addition, the quality of the supplies was not always good. While Creative Memories supplies all met ISO standards for photo safety and their albums were guaranteed for life, what was sold in the stores did not meet these standards. I ended up giving everything I’d purchased to Robyn to use as art supplies.
I Started My Business
In 2002 we moved from Silicon Valley to a semi-rural part of New Mexico. Later that year I decided to become a Creative Memories Consultant. We had homeschooled in California, but Robyn wanted to go to school to make friends, so I started a business to make friends. She only lasted at school for 6 months, but I continued in the business. I just took her with me when I was teaching classes and running workshops until I felt comfortable leaving her at home for half a day.
My background in teaching found a new home in my business. I loved teaching people not only how to scrapbook, but how to organize their photos, how to create beautiful – but not overbearing – enhancements for their photos, and the importance of journaling their stories for future generations. I’ve always been good with computers, so as technology changed, I taught them how to organize their digital photos as well, and how to create photo books. Although I sold and taught digital scrapbooking software, my focus was – and still is – on the stories first.
The Photo Solutions Market Changed
By 2013 Robyn had graduated from college and was out of the house, and I was working full time in early childhood education again and running my business as a side hustle. I barely had time to scrapbook myself, although I still held monthly workshops for my clients. This was my life, but this increase in busy-ness was more widespread than just my life. Mark Mizen, formerly the Technology Director for Creative Memories, reported that according to Google Trends, scrapbooking searches declined by around 70% between the peak in 2005-2006 to 2013.
In June of that year Creative Memories announced they were leaving the scrapbooking market and focusing on quick albums. Around the same time I stumbled across The Association of Personal Photo Organizers Facebook Page (now called The Photo Managers). Through research, I learned that there were many other ways I could use my skills and knowledge as a professional photo organizer to help people with their photos and memories. I joined the organization in August and attended my first annual convention in Dallas in February 2014. I learned so much and was so excited to start offering expanded services while still helping my scrapbooking clients.
And Then My Life Changed
The next month I travelled to California to take care of my dad when he got pneumonia (he had COPD). I stayed a week, got him back on his feet, and returned to New Mexico and to my job. A month later I was back in California, and I spent the next 5 months caring for him until he passed. And then I spent the rest of that year and half of 2015 dealing with his two properties and all that stuff that grown kids get to deal with when their parents die. He never remarried and in 20 years of being a widower and a retired engineer he had accumulated a LOT of junk.
And those 10 grocery sacks of photos were still waiting for me in the closet. Along with lots of thumb drives, a cell phone, several computers, and more.
I Finally Got to Be a Professional Photo Organizer
In November 2014 Creative Memories returned to its scrapbooking roots when Caleb Hayhoe purchased it. His previous company had sourced Creative Memories’ imported products for many years. And I launched the new version of my business in July 2015. Since then I’ve continued to support my scrapbooking clients while offering other photo solutions to those who need them.
Through working full time and taking time to care for family, I never lost the commitment I have to the importance of family and family stories, especially for children. There is so much research out there that shows the benefits of printed photos and family stories on children’s emotional development. And, as a former teacher, I believe there’s an academic benefit as well.
I no longer teach, and there are no grandchildren on the immediate horizon. Although I miss having young ones in my life, now I love teaching other family photo keepers how to organize and preserve their family memories because even though we may not all have the same values, we all value our families, our family photos, and the stories they tell.
My big goal is to help everyone I can with outdated photo media – whether you want Do-It-Yourself Support or Done-For-You Services – so you can celebrate your memories now as well as leave a meaningful collection for future generations.
What This Means for You
So now you know the story of how I became a professional photo manager, I’m sure you can see why I’m so passionate about what I do. I want to change the world for the better, one family at a time. These days, I offer so many photo solutions because everyone’s collection is different and everyone has different needs and goals. I want to be able to help as many people as possible celebrate their memories in their own way.
If you found my story interesting, why not stick around and read some of my other articles.
I’d also love to chat about how I might be able to help you, too.
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