framed collage

How I Created my Perfectly Imperfect Family Photo Wall

My family photo gallery wall gave my husband and I a great project to focus on during Covid lockdowns. In the early days of lockdown, time seemed to slow down and our motivation to tackle long-term projects around the house waned. Then, one day inspiration struck and we got busy.

Our house, which was built as a cottage in 1934, is quite small, so wall space is very limited. We have a cute landing upstairs with two comfy chairs which face the staircase. This is where we like to sit and read or journal in the morning with coffee. It was the perfect spot for our family photo gallery wall. And since the photos are on the staircase wall, we will see and enjoy it multiple times every day.

Gallery photo wall

Gallery photo wall in our staircase

My family photo wall is about our ancestry and includes reprints of photos from three generations from both my husband’s family and mine. The original photographs are filed away in archival boxes. I was thinking about how one day these framed photos would be passed on to the next generation, so I wanted the most important ones to have solid, archival, custom-made frames. I choose some images for their historical interest, like my mom and brothers standing in front of the American Pavilion at Expo ’67 in Montreal.

Expo 67 Montreal

My hip looking family at Expo ’67 in Montreal!

Since I wanted to include all of the older photos that my dad had so lovingly collected, I created two collages in InDesign. One piece includes 10 photos that I scanned from a scrapbook he made. I kept his meticulous tiny handwriting below each photo identifying who’s who. This keeps his “hand” in it, it’s more personal than if I had redone it and typed it all out. He didn’t live long enough to see this but I know he would be very pleased that these photos were no longer in a box in the closet.

framed collage

A Legacy collage made from scans of my dad’s photo album about our ancestors

To plan where the frames would be hung, I started with the larger anchor pieces and figured out where they would look best. Then we worked our way out – placing the medium then smaller frames around them, keeping it balanced. This would have been much more difficult if we had wanted to separate the two sides of the family, so we didn’t restrict ourselves that way. Instead, we hung the frames where they “looked right.” We also didn’t want to fall into perfectionism and measure everything again after we hammered in the nail. To be honest, there is a gap or two that I am not happy with, but it will do for now! We can always add to it and rearrange them in the future.

Our wall has 9 custom made frames out of 16. Some of these were made recently and some I had from my wedding photography days. I invested in some simple, tasteful frames to display my portfolio pieces. I simply swapped the old wedding photos with the new family photos. I am familiar with the different types of hangers on frames and how to work with them, and having a husband who is handy doesn’t hurt.

I wanted some photos to be flush for variety, without a border or a mat. For others I added a white border around the image in Photoshop, so that a 5×7 image could be used in an 8×10 frame, and it almost looks like there is a mat. Some of them showed a ripple in the print because there was no mat to hold them down though. I had to spray mount them to a backing, which was messy.

antique framed photo

An inexpensive frame on the left, and a custom-made frame on the right, both without mats

The 8×10 ready-made frames that I used were bought at craft stores, camera stores, home décor stores, or art supply stores. They were collected over time in our case. My husband had two that he found at garage sales that had that vintage look, so we used them to add variety.

This kind of project can be a challenge because it takes commitment and is completed over time. But the result is so very worth it! In my case I created family heirlooms. When you frame something, you are saying – this image is important to me. Future generations will have the same respect.


About the Author:

Marilyn Gillespie is a professional photographer, who creates custom-designed legacy photobooks for clients worldwide. She also offers photo scanning, retouching and photo restoration services. Marilyn can be reached by email and loves chatting to clients about how best to archive and preserve their family history or life stories.

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