The Last Word: Personal Photo Organizers

The Last Word: Personal Photo Organizers

The Secret Ingredient for Helping People Manage Photo Collections

For more than 40,000 years since the first cave paintings, telling stories has been one of our most fundamental communication methods. Even with technology’s increasingly sophisticated and instantaneous capabilities, our brains still respond to content by looking for the story to make sense out of the experience.

This fact brings me to a core question I often ask people: Why do you take photos? The answers vary, but the underlying message is always “to remember,” which I translate to mean, to tell a story. Yet today, our ability to tell stories with our photos has become overly complicated, thus paving the way for an emerging profession—personal photo organizers.

Cathi Nelson

You have heard the numbers: 2.5 trillion photos will be taken in 2016; 90% of those will be taken with a smartphone; you can download more than 2,000 photo-sharing/editing apps; baby boomers and generation X are the owners of billions of printed photos and home movie files that need to be collated, digitized and shared with the next generation. Joining this group are young adults who are getting married, starting families and seeking safe, private and unique ways to share their photos.

It is no wonder people are overwhelmed. Today’s rapidly changing world has created a perfect storm for confusion and photo chaos, and people are increasingly seeking assistance from a human being rather than an algorithm. Photo organizers have emerged to meet this growing need.

Take Bob, for example, who recently contacted a photo organizer. He had 200,000+ photos scattered across numerous devices and cloud services. These included Photos for OS X, iPhoto, Google Photos, Amazon Cloud Drive, Picasa, Picasa Web Albums, iMac desktop, three iPads, two iPhones and an Android device. Though maybe a bit extreme, this is one type of client photo organizers work with every day. Yet, it is the next story that captures the heart of the work a photo organizer does.

At 94, John hired a photo organizer to create a photo book that would tell his story. The yearlong project resulted in a 100-page photo book, which spans generations and countries. Three weeks after completion, John passed away and his priest based the eulogy on John’s photo book.

“John’s family asked me to give his eulogy, so I would like to close with a story,” the priest said. “I knew John from my monthly Masses at Summit Park. Usually, John would sit in the back of the room in his wheelchair and sleep. Now that is not at all meant as a criticism; many people here at Queens sit in the back of the church and sleep through my Masses, too! On a few occasions after Mass, John would invite me to his room to show me his ‘pictures.’ I am sorry to confess that I only took him up on his offer once.

“Well, let’s fast-forward to a week ago,” the priest continued, “when a photo book showed up in my mailbox. There, on beautiful display, were the pictures that John was so proud of. As I looked through that album, I was amazed to see a lifetime that was hidden in the heart of a man who slept through Mass at the nursing home and whose legs no longer wished to cooperate with his mind. And I wished I had taken the time to enter into those memories sooner.

“You see, in this book I realized something that we all should know but so easily forget. And that is this: in each and every single human being on this earth, there is present a never-ending treasure trove of uniqueness and a lifetime of irreplaceable memories. John wanted to leave this photo book as a legacy, to celebrate his family. Perhaps this book could also be a reminder to us that we must never forget how precious human life is, and that nothing else in our lives should ever become more important than those irreplaceable people whom God has given us to love.”

In his eulogy, this priest beautifully summarized the essence of the work we are doing as photo organizers and the reason why people are willing to hire someone to offer assistance.

Whether we’re dealing with 200,000 digital photos, a lifetime of printed photos or a special occasion photo book, the work we do is personal and meaningful—and makes a difference in people’s lives.

We help people tell their stories.

Cathi Nelson founded APPO (the Association of Personal Photo Organizers) as an answer to the growing need of our digital age—assistance for organizing an influx of digital photo memories, printed photos, media and memorabilia. APPO supports its hundreds of members by offering ongoing training, a supportive community, professional credibility and an annual educational national conference.