What’s going to happen when you’re gone?

by | May 30, 2019

This is something I’ve been thinking about on and off for a while, and I decided I wanted to talk about it here, because I think it’s something we all need to consider, but it’s unpleasant and easy to put off — and we shouldn’t.

I’m the last of my clan. I lost my dad in 2008, my mom in 2015 and my sister last year (heart, cancer, cancer. sigh). Neither my sister nor I had kids. So when I go, the clan goes, the family name goes. gone. fade to black.

I’m the owner of the family clan collection of photos, as well as my own personal collection. A thing I’ve been thinking through is what to do for “what happens after”. One thing I know I don’t want to do is dump the problem on whoever has to clean out the house, because that’s either my dear wife who I don’t want to have to spend a year clearing out the house before starting the next phase of her life, or it’s a friend who gets stuck dealing with whatever I leave them to deal with.

So what do you do? if you do nothing, they overriding chance is that things will end up in a dumpster, and honestly, maybe that’s what they deserve. The idea of setting up something to preserve my online content for perpetuity doesn’t interest me because if nobody is interested, why bother, and if they are, chances are those people will protect copies.

I’ve already done a number of things: rather than dump the problem on someone else, I’ve made arrangements to give copies of images to organizations I work with, and a license to use them as they see fit. Every so often I send an updated USB thumb drive with a refresh of those images and an updated license to use. They don’t have to bother asking me for permission and won’t have to worry about permission once I’m gone.

I’ve done a bunch of organization of the family photos, including blurb books and thumb drives, and all the family friends that have any remote interest in any of the images have them. I think that’s pretty much all I need to do there. I’ve considered doing some online collections but it’s never a top priority so it doesn’t get time.

I think, if I do nothing else, that’s fine. I’m not dumping on my wife the worry of having to get copies of my images to Audubon. She has bigger fish to fry, and I’d rather it be my responsibility. I occasionally wonder if I should do more. I sometimes wonder if I should reach out to other organizations (I probably will, at some point).

I bring this up because it’s something I think every photographer needs to think about. What’s going to happen when you leave us? If you care about your photos, should you make sure the photos are dealt with? Is that something you just leave to chance and the good will of those still around that get to clean up after you? Is it something you put in your will? And if you’re going to do that, is it something you should do NOW so you don’t dump it on the person grieving your loss?

I know it’s not a fun thing to consider, but it’s a necessary thing. And it’s true not just for photographers, but musicians, artists — any creative. My mom, before she lost her eyesight, was a pretty good painter. And one painful aspect of dealing with the house after we lost her was trying to figure out what to do with many of her paintings. I’ve got a couple here at my house that are on my walls. My sister’s spouse does, too, as do friends, because we invited them all to come over and take what they wanted. But the rest? Either goodwill for some, or the trash for others (not all of them are great). And that is frankly what she wanted to happen…

What do you want to have happen to what you create after you leave? The answers are individual and personal, of course. But the reality is, if you don’t make decisions and do something — even as ‘simple’ as defining your wishes in the will — the most likely result will be stuff getting dumped in a dumpster. And maybe that’s okay with you, but I suggest you think about it. And if you want something else done, maybe you should start doing it now, rather than wait until you’re gone, both to make sure it’s done right, and to make sure you just aren’t dumping the responsibility on someone else who really shouldn’t need to think about it as they deal with having lost you.

One thing I know is that if my wife outlives me, I don’t want to make her burden worse by having to spend time sorting through all my crap and figuring out what to do with it… Where I can make reasonable decisions and implement the now, I am…