Picture: Photographer shooting sunrise light on North Peak, Hoover Wilderness, Eastern Sierra, California
What happens to our pictures after we’ve shed our mortal coil? What are our families left to do with all the thousands of photos we’ve taken during our life-long quest for those perfect shots? Keep them? Abandon them? Spend weeks of their lives sorting through them, deciding which to keep and which to let go of?
I ask this following a powerfully personal and moving experience I had last week. Some of you may recall that early this year I devoted some of my energy to selling some photography gear for a woman whose husband died after a bout with cancer. Unfortunately, they got married while he was struggling with the disease, and since he was convinced he wasn’t going to succumb, they really didn’t discuss much of anything to do with his photography or his photo business. Worse even, when he did quickly succumb to the ravages of the disease, he took all of his business and photo-folder encrypted passwords with him.
Now this woman is moving out of state. She doesn’t want to bring the many tens of thousands of slides her husband shot, everything from Antarctica, to polar bears, to climbing, to flowers galore, with her on the move. There are boxes and boxes of his slides sitting in her house. So to help her, I spent a full day culling through his collection, pulling what I as a Photo Editor would consider the best of his collection. My job was to try and whittle down his collection to maybe a couple thousand slides at most; something she could manage with during the move, and still have enough images to pull together a special and personal book of his images to give to family members or put in slide shows. As I sat there plowing through the boxes of his slides, I became extremely cognisant that what I was looking at was “A Photographic Life.” And here I was, deciding which images were to be salvaged from that life, as the rest were destined to be destroyed. It was certainly a powerful and moving feeling to be sure.
And as we talked, some of the questions that came up begged to be answered, and many of which we photographers should consider ourselves before we forever hand off the reigns to our collection. For those of us who spent years shooting on film or slides, how should our negatives or transparencies be destroyed? Which photos would we want our family to keep? Would keeping everything cause an undue burden on our loved ones? For those of us selling our images or posting them online, does your family know who’s selling your work, or have access to the accounts and websites where you’ve been posting your work? Is there someplace where your family can donate your images to, so that they’ll live on and have a greater life or service beyond just being pixels on a website, forum, or hard drive?
I don’t have all the answers myself, but I feel this profoundly personal experience warrants asking those questions and more.
I would love to hear your thoughts as well. Do you have a plan for your images after you’ve gone? Are there places out there where families in a similar position to this woman could find out more resources or information? What, if anything, would you like to see done with your images once you’ve gone on to the next place? Not easy questions, but definitely something worth considering or discussing.
Also, if you like this post, and given the importance of the subject, it would mean a lot to me if you hit one of those neat little social SHARE buttons at the top of this post. I think the more people that chime in, the better off we can all be, especially since we’re all living a Photographic Life.
PS: I’d just like to make a note that I was not doing this for her as a client; she’s not. This is just one of those paying it forward things. I knew her husband for many years through a number of professional forums. The real reason I’ve put in the time and effort to help this woman is simple; “There but for the grace of God go I.” And if this was myself that had passed, I sure would rest easier knowing someone had stepped up to help my wife deal with my collection of images.
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