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A gallery wall of frames arranged neatly. The central focus is a digital picture frame with an ornate border. Illustration.

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The beloved digital frames that preserve 40,000 photos on my walls

They evolve with my home and keep all my memories alive 

As retired designers with penchants for eclectic design and iconic modern furniture, my wife and I have acquired many pieces over the years that we’ve truly cherished. But it’s not the vintage Eames, Rietveld, or Noguchi that we’re obsessed with and can’t live without... it’s our two PhotoVu digital photo frames.

PhotoVu, a boutique high-end electronics company that unfortunately closed down over 10 years ago, took the lowly digital photo frame to new heights in 2003 with its professionally framed and matted, large-format, high-resolution wireless design. Our first PhotoVu, a 19-inch model, was a $1,600 impulse purchase, while the second, a 22-inch model, was a broken one I repaired after someone offered it to us for parts.

In the age of photos displayed in rapid slideshow fashion or with the “Ken Burns effect” on a monitor or TV, it’s refreshing to hang a traditional-style frame dedicated solely to personal photographs. We’ve positioned one frame for photos taken in the landscape orientation, and the other for portrait-oriented pictures.

Both of ours have been reframed as often as our decor has changed. Since PhotoVus were designed to work with regular picture frames, it’s incredibly easy to replace the frame and mat board with either off-the-shelf or custom framing.

A digital photo frame with ornate white frame hangs on a white wall with a mantel.
The PhotoVu in our living room originally had a thin black modern frame. As our fireplace mantle and surrounding objects evolved, I decided we needed less contrast and more texture with the frame. I cut down an old ornate frame I found at a garage sale and painted it white, and it now blends in much better.
Jim Garramone

The photos we display are not carefully curated, color-adjusted, sharpened images from travel, but pretty much every unedited photograph we have taken over the “digital” years and then copied onto PhotoVu hard drives. Together, our two frames currently hold over 40,000 photographs. Recently, we have started scanning our older pre-digital photos and adding those to the mix. It’s our life in photographs, appearing randomly in five-minute increments.

A digital photo frame with a black frame hangs on a wall with a bunch of other black-framed artworks.
When we added picture ledges in our family room, we realized that most of our pictures had black frames. The distressed silver frame with black matting that had been on this vertically oriented PhotoVu looked out of place, as did the dark cherry wood frame with off-white mat that it originally came with. So I picked up a black wooden frame and cut some white mat board to help this PhotoVu look like it belongs.
Jim Garramone

There’s just one rule: Photographs are only added, never removed, as every image holds a memory potentially forgotten. Relatives long past, our daughter’s old boyfriends, social gatherings, family events, vacations, and the most memorable meals or drinks end up displayed on our walls sooner or later.

Our PhotoVus are set to turn on before we get up in the morning and off after we’re in bed. They’re both placed in high-traffic locations in our home. When a particular photograph catches our attention, the extended display time allows us to walk up close and examine it in detail.

As we get older and memories tend to fade, we find our PhotoVus a godsend. When a photo’s date escapes our memory, the PhotoVu’s internal server and software enables us to quickly go online and view its image file data to determine when it was taken.

The thought of either PhotoVu breaking makes us both shudder. But as with any 15-year-old computer, parts fail and need to be replaced. Out of necessity, I have learned how to repair and keep our PhotoVus up and running.

A black-framed artwork showing a photograph of a rowboat.

Canvas II by Meural

PhotoVus are no longer in production, but the author has recently found the real wood digital frames from Meural to be promising and is considering purchasing one as an addition or replacement. Meural’s Canvas II, available in two sizes and with thin frames in black, dark, or light wood, can display the owner’s photos in addition to a subscription-based library of over 30,000 artworks; a subscription is not required to purchase the Meural, but the membership does increase the storage capacity for user-uploaded photos.

Jim Garramone is a retired designer whose work has appeared on the Oprah Show, in Taunton Press’s The Not So Big House book series, and magazines and newspapers, including Metropolitan Home, Fine Homebuilding, Dream Kitchens, Saveur, and the Chicago Tribune. He currently works a few hours each week at the local Ace Hardware solving customers’ house-related problems when he’s not pursuing the next classic modern furniture restoration or personal home design challenge.

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