I was fortunate, early in my career to have a mentor that not only encouraged me to do my best but also taught me not to be afraid of taking risks. There were times when shooting assignments for him, I’d push the envelope maybe a little too far with some ideas or images but when it came to him to make a decision on whether or not it made the magazine, I’d see a devilish twinkle in his eyes and he would say, “f__ck ‘em if they can’t take a joke”. Sometimes, he’d catch a little flack from the publisher but most of the time; it turned out to be the right decision.
This past week, we cleaned the office and in the process purged a LOT of unnecessary things. We’d been creating new imagery for decades either shooting paid assignment work around the world or executing personal projects. We were surrounded by dozens of boxes containing slides from shoots for National Geographic, B&W negatives and contact sheets from hundreds of corporate jobs and dozens of tear sheets of ads and magazine stories. Adding to that we had hundreds of CD’s and DVD’s containing digital files and hundreds of mini DV videotapes from shoots. We had been creating content and adding to the office for 24 years but we hadn’t been getting rid of things that we no longer needed. Now was time to let go. We were being choked by an analog legacy that was encroaching on our space and zapping our creative energy.
After separating our personal photo archives from our job assignments, I set up a criteria for determining what to keep and what to toss by asking myself two questions:
Does it have any value for my current business?
- There was no longer a need to keep hundreds of contact sheets and negatives from decades of corporate shoots. They had to be tossed along with hundreds of 120mm and 35mm film that had been shot on corporate assignments. I decided that it’s not our job to store a company’s photo archive indefinitely. Unless the photos were of notables, such as the portrait we took of attorney Roy Cohen, they were thrown away. Incidentally, The Cohen photos were assigned by a magazine early in our careers. What ultimately transpired with the cover is another story which I will tell when/if I find the tear sheet of the cover.
- We tossed analog stock photography catalogs containing our work along with old promotional mailers and Blackbook, Workbook and AR ad reprints. They no longer had value.
- There were hundreds of magazine tear sheets of our work. Most were recycled and a handful were kept for scanning.
- There were and still are dozens of boxes of slides shot for travel assignments around the world for major magazines. They need to be edited. I have found with travel photography that it either has to be contemporary (less than 5 years old) or it has to be old enough (more than 20 years old) to be relevant.
There is a historic value for photos that can no longer be taken, like the Statue of Liberty and the Twin Towers at dusk.
Is the photograph something iconic from my past that I may want for my memoirs?
- I set the bar high and tough decisions had to be made as to what images met the criteria. Which photographs were worth keeping for my legacy? What I discovered was that the images that made the cut were the images that I made when I took a chance or pushed myself a little harder. I could hear my mentor’s laugh and his irreverent words every time I salvaged a photo for saving “f__ck ‘me if they can’t take a joke”. Ultimately it is my legacy, isn’t it?