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East Lyme - When Armi Rowe first arrived in southeastern Connecticut, she became intrigued with the art of scrapbooking, enjoying the practice of culling through old photographs and preserving family memories in an artistic way.
Now, with her new business Rockumemories, Rowe gets the same kind of thrill. But instead of compiling mementos in bulky scrapbooks, she is helping families, schools and organizations save their magic moments in a digital format.
Rowe, a former communications manager at Pfizer Inc. and freelancer for various publications, said the key to her business is in piecing together stories from all the photographs that people have in their attics - or even on their hard drives.
"What good are these pictures unless somebody is telling the story," she said. "We take too many pictures. It's overwhelming. This makes it manageable."
Rowe started organically, developing video memoir projects for friends and family before branching out to work with schools and religious groups. Early this year, the business had grown to the point that Rowe decided she needed an office, settling on a small space near Midway Plaza shopping center on Route 161 where Video World - one of the town's last video-rental businesses - had been located.
Rowe said the typical 10-minute video memoir might be shown at a 70th birthday party, a 25th school reunion or a 50th wedding anniversary. People are often invited in to her studio to be interviewed about the guest of honor in front of a green screen where she has a video camera and lighting set up.
Rowe, who just opened her studio last month, said she requires for her minimal fee of $120 that the pictures be well organized and be culled down to about 100. She has standard questions she asks that help bring the story of the photos to life.
"It's today's scrapbook," she said. "It's digital scrapbooking."
Rowe said several online companies offer a similar service, but she would be worried about sending one-of-a-kind family photos through the mail to these services, which may well farm out the work to foreign countries. The beauty about Rockumemories, she said, is that you can drop off the photos to a local store, where they will be scanned quickly, touched up to restore the original colors and stored in a fireproof safe until they can be picked up.
"The great thing is it's a neighborhood place where we can sit and discuss a project," she said.
One of Rowe's most interesting projects involved spending an hour at a family picnic where she interviewed a dozen people about their personal histories.
"It's like biography TV," she said. "It's personal documentaries."
Rowe got the idea of the name Rockumemories from a visit to Ireland where she viewed carved rocks that had been preserved for perhaps 5,000 years.
The idea behind her business, she said, is to provide people today with the same kind of permanence through the magic of digital preservation.
The goal now, she said, is to get the message out through blogging and local speaking arrangements about the importance of saving family memories while people with deep ties to the past are still alive.
In some ways, Facebook users are doing that today with Throwback Thursdays - when baby boomers like to post pictures from their past - but Rowe said more evangelizing needs to be done to impress upon people the need for digital scrapbooking.
Rowe plans to hold a grand opening celebration Saturday, Aug. 30, for interested people to find out more.
"The challenge is to tell the story that people need to tell their story," she said.