Simon Stanley visits the first scrapbooking store in Saigon. Photos by Vinh Dao.
When was the last time you browsed a photo album that wasn’t on your phone or computer? In fact, when was the last time you even had a photo printed? As 2016 shapes up to be the year of ‘digital burnout’—a term used to describe the mental fatigue from being connected to some kind of electronic device every waking hour—with print book sales bouncing back and online social media platforms such as Twitter reportedly experiencing a slowdown, more and more of us are looking for ways to unplug our virtual lives and reconnect with the physical world.
Opened in 2011, Scrapbook and Love, a small shopfront on District 1’s Nguyen Van Thu Street, provides one such antidote to the digital age, giving the people of Saigon a way of preserving their memories away from their Facebook timeline.
“Scrapbooking is a personal thing,” says the store’s founder and owner, Phuong Hoang, a former multimedia design student at RMIT. “It’s meaningful. You are the only person who sees and feels your story, so you are the only person who can tell it. You can record memories and preserve the stories behind your photos.”
Of course, the concept of creating a scrapbook is nothing new, having been practiced all over the world in various forms for centuries, as a way of gathering the memorabilia of our lives, be it with ticket stubs, photographs, drawings, postcards, or written thoughts and memories.
As a hobby, however, and what is now a multi-billion-dollar global industry, scrapbooking began in the United States in the early 1980s, when specialist craft stores started selling dedicated materials such as ring-bound albums, decorative papers, cards, stickers and embellishments. Today, ‘scrapbookers’, or ‘scrappers’, are springing up all over the world. It was during a trip to Singapore that Phuong was first introduced to the craft.
“I was visiting my sister who was working there,” she recalls, “and I found a scrapbooking store. I was so surprised at all the beautiful things. I was so excited, like a child who had found their favourite toy. I explored everything in the store for many hours and I knew that scrapbooking was my new hobby.”
After graduating from university, Phuong turned her new hobby into a business, and Scrapbook and Love was born. “All of our materials are imported from the best scrapbooking suppliers in the USA and Australia. The most important thing about these materials is that they are acid free, so your photos are preserved beautifully and safely.”
She shows me some examples of her own scrapbooks, piling the table with thick wedges of wood and cardboard, beautifully decorated with papers, stickers, tags and intricate design details, each opening out to reveal hidden compartments, folded sections and pockets tucked full of hand-written annotations beside Polaroid photographs, another recent revival similarly fuelled by nostalgia and a growing preference for the tangible world over the digital.
Phuong’s shop is loaded with all manner of paper styles and designs, plus quirky 2D and 3D objects to be added to a project, from laser-cut wooden images and lettering, to miniature envelopes and stationery. If you’re overwhelmed with choice, pre-selected kits are also available.
According to Phuong, scrapbooks are particularly popular with young mothers who come to her shop seeking an alternative way of preserving their baby photos. Prices are reasonable, despite everything having been imported, and Phuong explains that a mini-album can be put together for as little as VND300,000. “It’s almost all girls here,” she says. “Many also come here to make scrapbooks for their boyfriends.” But scrapbooking is more than just making elaborate photo albums, she adds. “You can use scrapbook materials to do anything, like making 3D photo frames. It just depends on your creativity.”
For those looking for an introduction to the craft, Scrapbook and Love’s weekend workshops are ideal, starting at 2pm every Saturday and Sunday and lasting for two to three hours. Each session focusses on a different theme or project, and Phuong remains on-hand throughout to offer her guidance. “Some people think it’s easy, some think it’s difficult,” she says. “But I tell everyone that there are no rules about how or what or why you scrapbook. You just follow your personal expression.”