Our Legacy

As I approach the age of 60 years, I am starting to thing about what might become of my work when I am gone.

These boxes contain most of my film photography at The Ada News from 1988 to 1997.
These boxes contain most of my film photography at The Ada News from 1988 to 1997.

Now, before you label me as one of those “back in my day” guys, you should know that I remain healthy and happy at my job as a news and sports photographer and staff writer.

But I thought about this extra hard recently because of two occurrences. 1. My young journalist friend Ashlynd visited my office recently, and we talked about the boxes and boxes and boxes of photographic negatives stored under the countertops here. 2. A fellow photographer came to visit recently with the goal of finding some photographic negatives from an event he photographed many years ago, and as a result, he brought down a big plastic tub full of three-ring binders full of negatives.

Neither my work nor his should be relegated to storage. In many cases, my shots were published once in the daily, then packed up neatly in Kodak boxes. That seemed like a sensible plan in the early years of my career. A few of these boxes stored over the period of a few months seemed entirely manageable. But as the years and decades rolled by, those boxes added up.

I certainly set aside many of my best negatives for contest and display, but the bulk of my work, thousands and thousands of images, sit in the dark.

I also think of the millions of images made by news photographers and reporters that might now be in the possession of newspaper/media companies long after their photographers aged out and retired or went to another paper. What plans to these understaffed media companies have for all those images?

I know it’s a lot to ponder, and I don’t know if I have a good answer. Would a historical society be interested in my negatives? Would a college library? The National Archives?

Or am I off base about this? Are the images we made and shared once in the daily newspaper or magazine simply a part of the process of living and being journalists? Have we done enough by witnessing life’s events and sharing them in print?

If you have ideas about the best way to preserve our legacies, I would love to hear them.

You can see the film era taper off abruptly in 2003 to 2005, a period during which I started relying much less on film and almost entirely on digital.
You can see the film era taper off abruptly in 2003 to 2005, a period during which I started relying much less on film and almost entirely on digital.


  1. When I retired a few years ago, I finally went into the boxes of newspaper covers that I had designed over the years. (Of course, the very idea of keeping newspaper tearsheets had been absurd for 15 years or more, given what occurred in the industry, and I had also left newspapers and gone into digital, TV and radio in my final working years.) As I leafed through those pages, I was struck by how important they had once seemed, how they had once been examined by tens of thousands of readers, and now they were superfluous. I kept a couple of pages from each of the newspapers I had worked at over the decades just for old times’ sake, and tossed the rest. And even those I saved have no real value. Libraries already have what they want. For my kids, these pages are nothing but a brief reminder of me. And I look at the tens of thousands of negatives and slides that I have the same way. I’ll soon go through them and keep a few reminders: of who I once was as a photographer, of the people I met along the way. But I have no delusions about what will be “valuable” in a historical sense. The world is inundated with images now. I hope a few of mine will survive me, but 99 percent of them are headed for the trash.

  2. An interesting question that I am beginning to ponder as well. Having amassed thousands upon thousands of images in just 10 years, I feel fortunate that all of them are in digital format and easily stored on various hard drives or uploaded to my blog(s) or Facebook albums. I can’t imagine what I would do with physical negs. Not sure what media companies will do about their collections but they certainly don’t deserve to just sit around and gather dust like all the broken down chairs and obsolete hard drives that fill most newspaper offices. Local library seems like a good option, but I don’t know what resources they would offer to do more than just file them away, unseen.

  3. I mean, I can’t live 100 percent in the 25-years-from-now realm. FB albums are quick and easy to access for potential employers and a positive representation of my social media use. Not meant as the permanent home for all my images.

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