Photographic Legacy – What Is Your Plan

I was listening to a recent episode of the LensWork Podcast with Brooks Jensen. He was talking about photography and how it lives in this dual personality world of existing both as an artifact and as somewhat of a performance art.

The photographic print, that’s the artifact. Viewing images on a digital screen… that’s like hitting play on a movie, there’s nothing tangible. It got me thinking about something that’s been troubling me more and more lately.

What is the plan?

Recently I had to purchase another large external hard drive. I ran out of space with my photos and needed more. So many images, tens of thousands, and what will I do with them in five years? Fifteen years? What will my family do with them when I eventually die and it’s (hopefully) grandkids and great grandkids looking at all of the photos crazy old grandpa made.

The hard drives WILL fail. That work will be lost forever. Will they even be able to read the file formats that many years from now? What will they do, huddle around a monitor or television to “flip through” the virtual boxes of photos?

Will there be anything left to pass on of the work I’ve spent all this time creating. Documenting our family, my kids as they grow, the ever changing landscape of the beautiful place we live… will it all be for nothing?

I’m freaking out a bit

You guys know I’ve made a promise to you to always be open and honest here, and right now this whole idea has me a little freaked out. I know that most of you will be saying “Just start printing your work”.

That’s a terrific idea, but also tremendously expensive. Even at a few cents per cheap 4×6 inch print, when you look at that few cents multiplied by the tens of thousands of photos, well, my bank account can’t afford to do it.

There’s photo books, just cram the pages full of as many photos as possible for archival purposes. Again, not financially feasible.

So it’s time to just print the important stuff.

Ahh, there it is, the important stuff

As I’ve been stewing over this problem something is becoming clear, though I don’t know what that even means. When I think about the “important” stuff, my first inclination is to print the family photos. The moments, places, events, and activities that I’ve taken time to document with my wife and kids, parents, etc.

But that is a small fraction of the photos compared to the landscape, small town scenes, nature, and all of the other work I enjoy making. Why didn’t this work pass the initial gut reaction test for being labeled the “important” stuff?

I have photographs I’ve made that I absolutely cherish. Special moments in nature, images that just speak to me. If they were lost I’d be bummed out majorly.

But I wouldn’t be as upset as if I lost the family photos. I’d be bummed but move on from losing my non family photo work. Losing my family photos, that would be devastating.

What is your plan

Where does that leave me? Where does that leave you? What images do you NEVER want to lose? Which ones, if lost, would you be saddened by but you’d get over?

The even bigger question is this. If I have work that I enjoy making and would be sad to lose, BUT it doesn’t fall into the “Important, NEVER want to lose” category, is it worth even doing?

This isn’t a post where I can give you any answers, only questions.

I hope it’s something that will get you thinking a bit more about your own work. I know I need to print more. Every family photo needs to be printed and stored physically in addition to the digital versions. Probably SOME of my non family work as well. Past that, I don’t know.

I do know I’ll keep making work I enjoy, regardless of if it falls into that “Important” category. I think of photographers like Vivian Maier, she just loved to make photographs.

The act of creating the image.

She had thousands of photographs in boxes of rolls upon rolls of undeveloped film. The final image didn’t seem to matter to her, just the enjoyment of the moment of creating the photo.

Food for thought, indeed.



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