How a southern storyteller created a baby book like no other.
Family faces are magic mirrors looking at people who belong to us, we see the past, present, and future. – Gail Lumet Buckley
A name is a gift given by the past to the present, from one generation to another. When I was little, my mother told me a funny story about my grandmother. When my parents found out they were having me, their firstborn child, my grandmother asked what they would name me. Then she said, “I hope you don’t give her a made-up name.” I can still hear her feminine yet feisty Southern accent when I tell this story! What she meant, of course, is that she wanted my parents to give me a family name. And they did. They named me Rachel Elizabeth LaCour, a name that carries so many stories with it.
When my husband and I found out we were having a baby, we immediately started talking about names. Would we have a girl? If so, maybe we would name her Madeline, my mother’s middle name or Elizabeth, my middle name? Would we have a boy? If so, we knew exactly which name we would give him: Joseph Edward Niesen. And guess what? On September 14, 2015, our son was born and we gave him the name Joseph Edward Niesen, a name with stories to go along with it, a name that spanned generations
When we brought our son home from the hospital, we stumbled around in our sleep-deprived bodies, documenting his earliest moments with our iPhones and SLR cameras. And although our Instagram feeds were filled with baby pictures, we felt like something was missing. We wanted to create a baby book that was unlike any other we had ever seen.
The Story of You
There are so many fun options for families to document and preserve their children’s milestones. Baby books are available in digital form and analog form, fitting every family’s style. From scrapbooks to apps, there are plenty of options for parents to document their child’s firsts, favorites and monthly milestones. But we wanted something different for our son’s baby book. Rather than a traditional baby book, we wanted a book that would be enjoyed by the entire family for years to come. We were looking for something modern, with a classic design that would stand the test of time. Most important, we were seeking a baby book that would tell a story – a story that would showcase our family history and help our son feel connected to something bigger than himself. We were really looking for an heirloom.
That’s why we chose MILK Books. We fell in love with their clean, classic aesthetic and their design templates that put photos center stage. When it came to choosing a title and a theme for our son’s baby book, we were immediately drawn to our family history. Instead of simply jotting down his milestones, we wanted to introduce him to the people who came before him. We wanted to remind him that his story started before him. So we decided on a title for our son’s baby book...
n. 1. One that has the same name as another; especially, one called after or named out of regard to another.
It felt like a relief to choose a theme and a title for our son’s baby book. Then the process of curating, digitizing and designing began. Starting with photos of our son, we introduced the “main character” of the story – him. Then we selected key photos from our family archives; we use PhotoShelter for our master archive. We prioritized photos that showcased the family members for whom our son was named. Starting chronologically, we introduced our son to his great, great grandfathers Joseph Alcide LaCour and Joseph Franklin Shuffield. By mixing in contemporary digital photos of our son, we created links between the past and the present. Bonus, he’ll be able to see some similarities between his namesakes and him – genetics are cool!
Choosing family photos that tell a story.
Telling a story in pictures means selecting photos that do more than show faces and places. Photos that capture moments, especially milestones, bring books to life. We wanted to fill our son’s baby book with photos that had memories attached to them. Although there’s no perfect formula for curating photos, we tried to fill these 7 basic categories:
Portraits, Scene Setters, Interaction photos, Honest Emotions, Transitions, Hero Photos, and one Closing Photo.
- Portraits introduce the main characters of the story – our son’s namesakes.
- Scene Setters add context to the story and add a sense of place.
- Interaction photos show relationships. We chose photos of family members sharing experiences, interacting with each other.
- Honest Emotion reveals people’s personalities and brings my son’s namesakes to life.
- Transitions show characters in the story moving from one chapter to the next. In this case, careful chronological sequencing helped us craft a narrative about ancestors.
- Hero Photos are usually the most important parts of the story. They often focus on the main character. In this case, most of these hero photos are larger in the layout of the book.
- Closing Photos communicate that the story has come to an end. It doesn’t really have to be a literal shot; it could be evocative.
The Importance of Good Captions.
Since this is a photo book, we didn’t want to overdo the text. Short, substantive captions ended up being perfect. They answer the important questions about “who, what, when, where, why and how?” By using chronology to help guide us, we were able to design our son’s book as a sequential story, moving from one generation of “Joseph Edwards” to the next! Each spread in the book has some text, usually short captions with some dates included.
The not-so perfect photos are the best ones.
To Photoshop or not to Photoshop, that is the question! In the end, we opted to avoid “fixing” or “correcting” any of our vintage family photos. When we looked at them as a collection, we realized how much we loved the fingerprints, film grain and rawness of the original printed photos. Imperfections make moments feel richer, more real.
Rachel LaCour Niesen is a Yankee by birth but a Southern storyteller at heart. When a much-loved uncle gifted her with her first SLR camera, Rachel found her calling in photography. In pursuit of her passion, she headed to the University of Missouri, where she studied Photojournalism and Art History. She’s currently a Business Development Strategist at ShootProof.