KOKOMO, Ind. —Scrapbookers usually can be found behind the camera, capturing photos to affix to the page, preserving memories.
Recently, however, Stephanie Medley-Rath found herself in front of cameras, speaking as the voice of authority on scrapbooking.
Documentary filmmakers Alicia Wszelaki and Matt Nothelfer filmed Medley-Rath, assistant professor of sociology at Indiana University Kokomo, as she taught classes, scrapbooked at home, and led her Girl Scout troop, for their upcoming production, Scrap. They are examining how people tell stories, in particular through the art of scrapbooking.
“Stephanie’s perspective on why people scrapbook, and why people tell stories, has been invaluable,” said Wszelaki, owner of Path 88 Productions. “She’s been able to give us insight into the industry, and how story telling has changed. Even though the vehicle is different, the method is different, the desire to be heard and express oneself, and prolong your history and your family’s history, is the same.”
Filmmakers plan to complete the film in mid-2018, for online publication and the film festival circuit.
They found Medley-Rath through her website, scrapworthylives.com. which she started after writing her dissertation, “Scrapworthy Lives: A Cognitive Sociological Analysis of a Modern Narrative Form.” She wrote about how the popularity of scrapbooking, how it structures lives, and how people show others that their own lives, and those of their loved ones are valued — or scrapworthy.
She’s pleased to find an audience for her research beyond academic journals.
“It’s hard to say if they would have found me had I not created a website about my research,” she said, noting that she’s published articles in scholarly journals, but not for wider distribution.
“It’s important to publicize your research in order for it to have impact, not only within academia, but outside,” she said. “Because I wrote a blog about my research, more people gained access to it.”
During her research, she interviewed 59 people who scrapbook or work in the industry, and about a dozen friends and family of scrapbookers, finding out what draws them to the activity.
“In the past, people were initially attracted because they had shoeboxes of photos they wanted to do something with, and they didn’t necessarily want to put them in a slip-in photo album,” Medley-Rath said. “I was interested in why people pick the pictures they scrapbook, and the embellishments they choose. I looked at the process of deciding which stories are worth recording and remembering, and which ones maybe aren’t recorded, and if they aren’t recorded in a scrapbook, are they forgotten?”
She noted that scrapbooking has changed since she did her research, with availability of digital scrapbooking and the rise of social media. Also, fewer people print pictures, preferring to keep them on their phones.
“It’s easier to start your own website, or to document on social media,” she said. “People are practicing the spirit of scrapbooking on social media, instead of a book. If you aren’t printing your photos, you don’t have the need to organize them. For some, Instagram with a caption is enough.”
Medley-Rath is an avid scrapbooker at home, and worked in a scrapbooking store while earning her graduate degree. Her daughter carries on the tradition, and also was included in filming, creating a page about her dog.
Nothelfer said Medley-Rath’s expertise as both as scholar and a scrapbooker provides the expert voice needed to tie together the stories of the scrapbookers they will showcase.
“It’s hard to find an expert in that area, and because she’s a scrapbooker, it’s perfect,” he said. “She can help the audience understand why people that craft do what they do. The main thing we found compelling is the fact she does social sciences, and she’s a scrapbooker. Story telling and human social culture are very intertwined.”
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.