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Have You Considered Your Photographic Legacy?

June 28, 2012 Business, Legal 10 Comments

Written by: Charlie Borland

Last week I read a forum post on a website where someone asked the question about what to do with all their photography. While I took the intent of the question to be more about what to do with their photography when they are gone, the answer was more related to photographic archiving.

I’ve been in professional photography for over 30 years so it’s not hard guess my age group. From time to time the question pops into my mind about my photographic legacy in regards to all my images.

While I have done some great work and plan to do a lot more, I have created some images that helped a lot of people and companies make money, shared a unique and interesting place with the world through a publication, or brought joy to someone’s family.

When I think about my image files I wonder what will happen to those images when I’m gone. I will not be one of the great masters whose work ends up archived at some center for photography or auctioned at Sothebys.

Instead, I have a large database of stock imagery, some of which has made substantial money while some has yet to even be seen.

What will become of all of these images? (No I’m not terminally ill or departing anytime soon. LOL)

It seems there are few options.

With the state of today’s stock photography industry and difficulties with getting images accepted due to oversupply, it would be very difficult to place these images in an agency where my children could enjoy stock photo royalties for years to come.

My children will have no interest in my photography collection when I am gone. They have no personal connection to my work. They weren’t there to share the joy of photographing the rainbow or the thrill of capturing our raft bashing through a Grand Canyon rapid.

They never felt the passion and dedication that went into my work. They never saw what we went through to photograph that advertisement or the conversation had with the cowboy during a portrait session. No one was with me when I climbed the mountain to photograph the sunrise or lay under my pickup to photograph a severe lightning storm. Today, this collection of imagery, unique only to me, is data on external hard drives.

Are we all in the same boat?

This is a question that most of us will probably face. Some of our life’s work has had an impact on people somewhere and at sometime. Maybe it was a huge impact or maybe not, but it is our work that has told some part of our world a story from our perspective.

I place tremendous value in that. If my house was on fire, after my wife first and dog second, I would fill my arms with hard drives before dashing out the door. I don’t care about any possessions or even the house. My imagery is priceless, so what happens after me?

Family aside, my legacy is my photographic library. It is a journal of a life of image making. It is my crowning achievement. My contribution to the world while I was here! But will these images mean anything beyond me? While many of my photographs have been available for anybody to see, the experiences of creating them have only been mine.

So it’s possible, when I depart that my imagery on those hard drives will be viewed by those in possession as nothing more than data hogging space, thus creating a higher perceived value as a reformatted hard drive.

My guess is that when I depart, my photographic legacy will depart with me.

What is your plan for all your imagery and photographic legacy?

Please leave a comment.

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Currently there are "10 comments" on this Article:

  1. tony sweet says:

    Hey Charlie:

    John Shaw, for example, has left his transparencies to the Nature Conservancy, I believe. I don’t see why such a donation (tax deduction) couldn’t apply to digital files. Right?

    What do you think??

  2. Bruce Haley says:

    This is something I’ve been thinking about for a few years now. My plan is to donate to some organization who could continue to sell the images and use the profits for their own cause. The problem is, how and how? Then it came to me immediately when I saw your e-mail Chalie, we start a non-profit organization. Easier said than done, I know, but it could be a solution.

    And Tony………unless the laws have changed recently, there is no real tax advantage for an artist donating their work as we can only deduct the value of the materials used to create it.

  3. admin says:

    Hey Tony and Bruce-
    Tony-That is a great idea. And Bruce, it could be interesting to have a non-profit site that can license images on behalf of the conservation efforts. I like that idea and would donate for sure. Now, who would do that?? LOL

  4. Richard Wong says:

    Good post Charlie. I haven’t really thought about it too much at this point in my life since I don’t have any kids yet, but I’d like to think my kids would be mature enough someday to value a part of their father’s life that meant so much to him, so that I could trust they’d appreciate me leaving my image collection to them.

  5. Brad Mangas says:

    I’m not completely sure of this decision yet, but it has occurred to me to let my immediate family members pick 3 pictures that they like and those master files can be kept but all the rest which in 6 years only amounts to 20,000 or so so-far, then all the rest, raw files and especially the master files that I have processed be destroyed never to be seen again. I can’t completely explain it but something tells me this could be the way to go.

  6. admin says:

    Hey Richard-

    I think that would be ideal and would love it if my kids might do the same. But it is what they would do with the files that makes the effort worthwhile that is the big unknown to me. Charlie

  7. We have agreed to give our collection to a university that expressed an interest in them. They were not the first and one, which will remain nameless, expressed an indecently keen interest. We told them thay would need to wait a few years yet! Our work documents the changes that the last 40 years (so far) has brought to the indigenous peoples of the Arctic. We would like to think that the pictures will be there for the descendants of the people we worked with right across the Arctic.

    I do think that the non-profit would be a good idea.

  8. admin says:

    Hi Cherry- I think this is very interesting in that several have mentioned that there collections have been accepted by non-profits or organizations. Clearly this is something I did not realize was happening. Charlie

  9. Brenda Tharp says:

    Wow, this is deep – Charlie-boy! But I too have thought about that. I have sisters who love me and my work, and nieces and nephews, but not more than perhaps having some pieces on the wall – which they all already have! lol.

    I have definitely thought about donating my images to non-profit groups – but I haven’t yet set it in place on paper – and it’s about time I do. We often think about these things, but never get around to them, and if the time should suddenly come that I depart the planet, no one would know what the heck to do, and that would not be good. This inspires me to take action on it this year.

    I love the idea of a non-profit stock photo site that would use the proceeds for charities of all kinds, but it might be hard to inspire anyone to start it in today’s tough stock market – nonetheless, a grand idea by one of your readers.

    My images are my ‘babies’ – I too would run out the door with my drobo unit and then some – after Jed and Mocha and family pictures were out the door…

    You stated your images were your legacy of a lifetime of photography. They are also a legacy of a lifetime of experiences. The images we make when we are feeling connected to the planet and its unique people speak ‘volumes’ and would be so useful to organizations trying to save what we have.

    Thanks for this deep post – it makes us all think.

  10. […] (Charlie Borland) When I think about my image files I wonder what will happen to those images when I’m gone. I will not be one of the great masters whose work ends up archived at some center for photography or auctioned at Sothebys. Instead, I have a large database of stock imagery, some of which has made substantial money while some has yet to even be seen. What will become of all of these images? http://www.pronaturephotographer.com/2012/06/have-you-considered-your-photographic-legacy/ […]

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