By Gordon Lewis
I was hoping my comments about one’s photographic legacy would stimulate discussion and, sure enough, it did. The comments fell into three general camps: The first camp was of the opinion that legacies are beyond our immediate control. Enjoy what you’re doing and let the future take care of itself. The second camp offered suggestions or shared their personal example of ways they share their photography with others. Photo blogs and personal websites are popular options. The third camp essentially shared the existential angst expressed in my posting; i.e., “What’s the point of all this?”
Well, for the record, I’m not quite as worried about legacy issues as my posting implied. I’m not obsessed with leaving a “LEGACY” in the sense of future generations recognizing the brilliance of my work. My main goal is simply to enjoy what I’m doing in the here and now. I do, however, think there’s some value in my gathering, sorting, and annotating my work so that anyone who had a future interest in it could determine its basic circumstances or significance, if only to me.
As for “putting my work out there,” my interest in other people’s appreciation and approval is not so great that I that I will devote significant hours and dollars to printing and submitting portfolios to galleries, magazines, coffee shops, libraries, etc. (but I have great respect for photographers who do.)
So what was my point? Simply this: It’s worth giving some thought to why you’re involved in photography and what you’re putting in those boxes. If you think it’s “just pictures,” then perhaps you should think a bit more.
Gordon Lewis has over 20 years experience as a journalist, photographer, scriptwriter and Web designer. His articles and photographs have been published in Camera 35, Petersen’s Photographic, Camera & Darkroom, and Popular Photography. His television credits include comedy hits such as Amen, A Different World, Family Matters, and In Living Color. Having exhausted all reservoirs of humor, he now designs interactive multimedia training for corporate clients. Gordon resides with his wife and three children just north of Philadelphia, the birthplace of freedom and current murder capital of the USA.
Featured Comment by Benzo: "I haven't commented yet, but I might as well jump in...my personal 'legacy' project is somewhat the opposite of what most people's are. I've always been a (minor) history buff, and as I've grown up, I've found stories about my families history fascinating. As such, I'm working on getting family members (mostly grandparents, great uncles and aunts and so forth) to sit for portraits, and then interviewing them. I got the idea from an art history teacher who interviewed as many artists he purchased from as possible, and now owns some rare historical material (first-hand interviews on tape and paper) pertaining to those artists. While my project probably won't have the same historical impact, it's a wonderful way to a) learn about and preserve both the histories and identities of your family and individual family members, b) form closer relationships with said family members, and c) develop your portraiture skills.
"I'm also photographing and writing about various family heirlooms. Hopefully the project will take off over the Thanksgiving/Christmas season, when I can herd as many people to my studio as possible, and with luck it will culminate with a large collection of archival negs and prints, and CDs and paper transcripts of interviews, stories and the preservation of family history. Not really my personal artistic legacy per se (which isn't something I worry about as much—I'm a 'have fun' photographer), but the project will do more than just perpetuate my work into future generations—it will be a valuable resource for my great grandchildren who wanted to learn about their ancestors. And it's a great excuse to take a lot of photos and spring for some nice prints!"