We heard from David Sparks about the Black Skimmer post. You might want to check out his response if you enjoyed that post.
David, who is 80, said, in part, "The Black Skimmer project and the other projects I am working on now is an effort to preserve some of the successful images in a format that will be more accessible to family and friends when I am no longer around. Unless I do something to give prominence to selected photos they will just remain part of the bloated Lightroom catalogs where they now reside."
I'd like to try to give heart to those who don't see any usefulness in their archives past their own physical lifetimes. I used to make two recommendations—one was to notate, on the back of prints, the people, places or things that appear in them, for the benefit of heirs and posterity. The other was to simply create a separate box and segregate all your best or favorite work into it, labeling it "---- ----'s Best Photographs" or something like that. The idea there is that your heirs might find it overwhelming to confront a roomful of photographic detritus and many boxes and filing cabinets full of unorganized prints and negatives, but few descendants are likely to throw out a single box labeled Grandad's best.
Of course, those recommendations seem very quaint now, unless you're one of the minority for whom printmaking is a part of the hobby. Few people have prints now and fewer prints start out as negatives, and you can't label a TIFF file with a pencil.
Still, there are a few logical ways to respect and honor some of the work you've done. A lucky few are able to find a repository for it, such an historical society or a curated archive, club, or local museum. (We're at an odd point in history, when exponentially more photographs are being made but exponentially fewer will likely survive the next hundred or hundred-and-a-half years.)
David's strategy is a good one—make small finished presentations that have a point and a purpose. I've always thought that another good way to insure the survival of work is craft—people tend to value beautifully made things, especially if they telegraph good craftsmanship even to people who don't entirely understand its value. Your own fame and the value of your work is another good preservative, as we've discussed several times, although that's neither really in our control, nor, for most of us, in the cards.
But generally, I'd say: try not to be fatalistic about it. Have some compassion for your own work! Have some sympathy for the effort you've put into your work and the fun you had making it, and don't shut the door on doing something that might help a little of it survive beyond your own span. Maybe you don't care, and that's fine—it's your work and you can do with it what you wish—but it's also not that hard these days to share it with others in a form that will let it last. Why not?
That part can be fun too, by the way!
(Thanks again to David Sparks)
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Rob de Loe: "Curate and print. I think those are the only two viable options. If you don't care enough to curate and print your own work, who else is going to care?
"Books are a great idea. I've been thinking about making simple photo books for projects. There are some very basic binding techniques that will get the job done, e.g., Japanese Stab Binding. Even something as basic as a nice archival box with interleave tissue sends a signal that something worth saving is inside.
"But the key is to curate. Choose your best work, and organize in ways that make sense (projects, themes, etc.). Or become famous so a museum will do it for you. That works too."
Nigel: "I am slowly making digital copies of my best negatives with a contraption I had made for the job.
"It is amazing and shocking to see London and Italy as they were forty to thirty years ago. These pictures taken when I was in my 'street photography' phase are now becoming historical documents, and certain pictures that were not interesting at the time have taken on a new life. The most interesting ones are the pictures I took for the short period when I first came to live in Italy and I was lucky to find a job with a local news magazine. Photography was much easier back then. There were not the neurotic privacy problems we have today if you shoot certain subjects.
"Regarding what I will pass on to the future: well, my theatrical photography will go to the musty archive of the local theatre. But I suppose most of my photography will disappear with me. It does not bother me at all. Most of my photography, particularly my hiking photography, is done to preserve memories for myself. I have/will make a few Blurb books of London and Italy 'as they were.' These are probably the only photographs that will be interesting to others and as they do not take up too much space may not end up in the house clearing skip. I am at an age where I have had to take part in quite a bit of what we call 'house clearing' of deceased relatives. It is a sad, brutal business. Inevitably one reflects on oneself whilst doing this awful job. We could only keep very little of what our relatives left us. It made me get rid of an awful lot of photographic gear that was lying unused for example. If my son keeps the few Blurb books I have made of holidays together and my documentary projects, I will be happy.
Joseph Brunjes: "My father died in October and I have the tough duty of going through his negatives and prints. He taught high school photography so he not only had thousands of his own negatives but hundreds of negatives from students. He photographed sports teams, clubs, and every day high school life for 30 years and has quite a visual history of his high school. Only a small portion of the entire collection was sleeved and organized. I found twelve 100 foot bulk canisters full of shot negatives with family and school related images intermixed. It will take me years to go through it all. Luckily for my dad, I still shoot film and can scan and archive his best photos in my spare time. His photos for the most parts are not artistic, but I have already found some real gems (and enough blackmail photos of my brother in his youth to last the rest of my life). It has also been fun going through the negatives of all the unknown students who left their negatives in the HS darkroom and were preserved by my father. It has helped me put my own collection of prints and negatives into perspective and I am currently working to make it easier for my family to know what is worth keeping."