Navigating personal memories in my family photo album

By Philiswa Lila

A photo album is an intimate object that plays an important role in the construction and image of family life. An album presents a visual narrative that can influence how a family is seen as well as evoking memories that expose moments in time and space. I came across a photo album, a traditionally bound book of family photographs kept since before I was born. The album is the oldest owned by my family - new, individually-owned albums and others belonging to the entire family have been bought; but all these are preceded by my recent discovery. The family photo album lay dormant amongst personal diaries, picture books, novels and art exhibition catalogues in a dusty cardboard box, dismissed by my family as evidence of my hoarding. I held the photo album for a while. Touching and opening its pages, I felt connected to memories on several levels of remembrance. I began to conjure up childhood scenes of home – the smells of umngqusho[1] and mincemeat on Sundays afternoon, the sounds from Umhlobo WeneneFM[2] in the morning, feet squeaking over shiny Cobra polished floors and speckles of dust swept with a grass broom from a neighbour’s yard.

6 Dec 2021