When I'm Gone

Lester stopped by today and the conversation ran all over the place until he asked what was going to happen to all these pictures after I was gone.  It’s something I’ve thought about but never did come up with anything satisfying.  If I had children, then I could leave it to them.  But I don’t.  And I don’t have anyone in the family that I could see leaving it to.  What would they do with a bunch of files, some prints and a bunch of negatives.

What annoys me is the idea that this so-called estate might become valuable after I die.  I was pondering this dilemma that’s common to artists and I did have one idea, to sell off the rights to my estate while still alive.  I wonder if anyone has ever done that.  You could put it up on eBay and sell your lifetime of work to the highest bidder.  The winning bidder would be free to resell prints, make prints from the files or negatives or just sell the whole thing off to a gallery or a museum.

It’s a long shot, from the buyers point of view, but art collectors are always looking for these sorts of long shots.  And the point, in case that’s missed, is that the artist would get some benefit from his/her estate while still able to use it.

Despite the fact that he was famous, Walker Evans wasn’t rich as he neared the end. An art dealer from Madison Ave. offered Walker $50K for all of his prints, in or around 1972 and he accepted the offer. The dealer showed up at Walker’s home in Connecticut driving his fancy car. The image of a white Rolls Royce stuffed to the gills with all of Walker’s boxes full of photos, as it drove away from his house, has haunted me since I read about…  – Weber

I remember when Brett Weston burned his negatives: “The ‘child genius’ of American photography turned eighty on December 16, 1991. On that date he began destroying nearly seventy years worth of negatives.  – Mundy

Anyone that’s been involved in the art game for a while, knows that destruction and creation are just two sides of the same coin. – Dave B.


Poet’s Walk – Burning (2010)

There is something liberating about burning a print – especially a so-called signature print.  I can understand why Brett did it.  I can also tell you that I saw his exhibit at Aperature and his were to date the most beautiful (from a technical point of view) prints I’ve ever seen, and that includes original prints by Adams, Evans, and the other top photographers.  As a printer, he was the acme.


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My name is Dave Beckerman. I am a fine art photographer working in New York City.

32 thoughts on “When I'm Gone”

  1. I have to put on my legal hat for this.
    Suggest that you consult an attorney that does estate and trust work and has a background in the arts. You could set up a trust with someone to administer the trust and deal with the photos, sales, etc.
    I can refer you to someone that I know who does that type of stuff if you are interested.
    No one wants to think about when that day could come but you can plan for it.

  2. Craig if you have a lawyer that won’t charge an arm and leg with that background let’s know.

    I may be unusual but I have no problem thinking about my own demise.

  3. What I have done is put them in the photo archive of our university library. Each year I put another hard disk of images into the archive. They have all my negatives, slides, and prints. One section of my work is in another library archive in a different region of the United States. In my will I have donated a small percentage of the total value of my estate, what ever that might be, to the maintenance and publicity of my photographs in the archive. I share my work through the creative commons, non-commercial with attribution. It was a relief to make the arrangements. I am 64 so I might have fewer years to live then you do, but at least I do not worry about where my photographs are.

  4. I’ve given this more than a bit of thought myself, and I’ve finally realized that since I’m not going to (or be able to) to care after I’m dead, why worry about it?

  5. Despite the fact that he was famous, Walker Evans wasn’t rich as he neared the end. An art dealer from Madison Ave. offered Walker $50K for all of his prints, in or around 1972 and he accepted the offer. The dealer showed up at Walker’s home in Connecticut driving his fancy car. The image of a white Rolls Royce stuffed to the gills with all of Walker’s boxes full of photos, as it drove away from his house, has haunted me since I read about…

  6. Of course the other important question is what camera/lens combo to be buried with so you can keep working on the other side! 😉

  7. I’ve thought about this as well. I remember reading about a accomplished press and editorial photographer – I wish I could remember his name – who’s archive of work was sitting virtually unknown till some one contacted his estate and arranged for the work to cataloged, scanned and sold ( I imagine for stock use) via some type of legal arrangement.There must be a legal firm that specializes in this. I bet someone at Getty or Corbis would know. What about museums? I bet they would have a similar arrangement. Hmmm now that I think about it someone Like joel Meyerowitz might have some insight. He’s NY based. I bumped into him once and he seemed like he was easy to approach and talk to. I know that is a long shot but he’s a New Yorker … don’t you people feel some affinity for one another? 😉 Send him an email.

    Dave your catalog obviously has worth and you can prove it based on your ability to sell in now – not everyone can do this. I wouldn’t be surprised if a long in the future “Antiques Road Show” features a segment with one of your photographs. But in that future a they may show this very page and this discussion.

  8. I don’t think there’s a god or an afterlife, so when your brain stops functioning, and you become somewhat like Sarah Palin, whoever or whatever you are now simply disappears.

    So Greg is right. After death, whoever you are now will be gone and can’t possibly care about what happens to your photos. However, as long as you’re alive, you can imagine a future without yourself in it. And in that future, you can imagine that there’ll be lots of people who will take pleasure in your art.

    If you burn all your negatives or insist in your will that your website closes down or leave all your files to someone who doesn’t have a clue about what to do with them, then you are being very selfish. You’re being like the proverbial sore-losing kid who takes all his marbles and goes home. Just because you can’t be in the game any longer, why ruin it for everyone else?

  9. A friend of mine mentioned that Kafka tried to have his writings burned upon his death, and the friend who was suppose to burn them, fortunately had a change of heart!

  10. Yeah, he wasn’t the only one that felt that way. Gogol actually did have his writings burnt! You know, some people get into the artist field with the desire for immortality, and some of us don’t give a hoot about immortality (me). They just want to do what they want while they’re here.

  11. I envision all you macho artists on your death beds whispering futilely into the ear of some nurse’s aid who can’t speak English:

    “My files, my files. They’re all in Lightroom. Please tell somebody.”

  12. Nah. It will be more like, here’s the keys to my apartment. Please wipe the disks using this military grade wipe program I’ve been carrying around for years.

  13. Or maybe the scenario might be,

    Year: 2040.
    Occasion: Royal Photographic Society Annual Awards

    Dave Beckerman and Matt Weber are wheeled up to podium and helped to their feet to accept their Lifetime Achievement Awards.

    They immediately start arguing about who speaks first and begin stabbing at each other with their canes. The society president has to intervene, but after peace is resotred both Dave and Matt generously donate all of their archives to posterity.

  14. Talk about strange coincidence, I had penned my latest post in draft popped over to your good site and low and behold you had beaten me to it..
    I have to say though my take on it was slightly different and centered on it being pos land fill, do you have that over there? Excuse my ignorance, I love Stephens take on the issue, though but there speaks a very organised fella and one whose work certainly is worth saving..

  15. “$50K for all of his prints, in or around 1972 and he accepted the offer”

    I suspect the art world is rife with these sad stories of circling vultures, waiting for artists seen as “profitable” too pass on so they can squabble and fight over the reamins of their estate.

    There was a writer in Australia in the past few years who had some trouble with the art community. She eventually became a lawyer and declared that the legal community was a teddy bear’s picnic compared to the arts community.

  16. Why doesn’t Lester start writing funny stories on his site. I for one would tune in every day.

    Also Les- let’s go to the track soon. I’ve been dying to shoot the misery and euphoria.

  17. Lester has a definite point in your case Dave. You’ve obviously already proven your collectible worth, not to mention the historical value as such. As a gift to future generations I think it would be not only be a visual testament to our society, for what its worth, but a way to transcend your mortality and return the favor that life bestowed upon you, which was the ability to savor and digest all that you’ve witnessed and reflected upon be it good, bad, or otherwise.

  18. Freud had a lot to say about the quest for immortality.

    Children are the most common way to go about it. And the artist or builder hope to leave behind physical objects.

    The wealthy can have stuff named after them.

    Actors hope to play a role which might do the trick. And now there’s a spate of tv contests that can make you famous.

    If all else fails you may be able to tweet your way to immortality.

    On the other hand, some religions posit that this world is all a dream.

    It may all be blinked out when I go. Or maybe you’re the dreamer and the rest of us are figments of your dream.

    And then maybe we all go to heaven or the other place and if any of that turns out to be true, which is the most popular idea – then we really are immortal and our legacy becomes much more important since we’ll be around watching what happens to artistic works.

    How annoying it must be for Van Gogh. For the rest of time he has to watch wealthy business people paying millions while he spent his years here in utter poverty. That’s got to be a form of hell.

    Better give it more thought.


  19. Having said all that; if someone came along and offered me $200K for my legacy, it would be hard to deny my family that…..

  20. They say every man has his price…What’s your price Dave?
    I don’t know what mine is, but it’s a lot more than anyone
    would be likely to offer me…

  21. $200K after taxes would do it for me. But they can only use the stuff after I’m gone. But that’s sort of fantasy money. If someone offered me $75K in cash, right now – I’d probably take it. Yep, the estate is for sale. Get it while it’s cheap.

  22. Dave, You sacrificed more than almost any artist around and you would be selling yourself so short, that I would have to rent a car and go extract Lester from his Jersey confines, and then we would have to do an “intervention”

    With interest rates hovering around 1% the $75K would be almost worthless. Think like a landlord: 15 times rent roll, meaning 15 times your annual earnings…

  23. Matt. I knew you’d say that. Did you ever hear the expression a bird in the hand. Of course I’d sell myself short – I need the money.

    Why do you think Evans sold his stuff for next to nothing? Do you think anyone would even pay that for it? No.

    After I’m gone – then we’ll see. Right now I’m not going to even get $50K for the rights. And as mentioned, I would like the money in the here and now.

    Let’s face facts. I’m a relatively unknown photographer who over a lifetime has sold about (ballpark) $350,000 worth of prints. Maybe it’s more, maybe less. Last year I sold about $60K. Subtract time / expenses / etc. and I may have done a net of $30K. So $75K is about three years worth of sales (net).

    You – Matt – haven’t said what your price is.

  24. Whatever price I came up with I would regret later (If I was lucky enough to live a long life) Back in ’91 a business man I know offered me $10,000 for my negatives and I laughed at him then…I was doing pet portraits for $65 and barely paying my $400 rent…Unless you feel like you are being overpaid by a lot, this is an emotional disaster in the making…

  25. Relatively unknown? As compared to whom, Ansel, Weston, etc.? The fact that you’ve sold over a quarter mil. in prints proves otherwise. You have a legion of fans by any standard, and $50K is an absolute joke of a figure for the true retail selling rights to your work. Poet’s Walk alone is easily worth double that figure. I humbly suggest you reevaluate your true worth, cause it’s a helluva lot higher that what you deem it might be. Then too, the ultimate test is not what you think, but what someone else is willing to pay.

  26. Greg – well, this is just thinking (or not thinking) outloud. What I see (someone else mentioned it) is a few decades after I’m gone, my stuff will turn up on the Antique Roadshow… Dave Beckerman, a photographer that worked around the turn of the century… He’s sold mostly through the web, but now his work is in galleries all over and worth quite a bit, esp. if you have a signed and numbered print. You only bought it for $175… well, in pristine condition, as your print is… I’d have to say it should bring in at least $10,000.

    If a big project came in tomorrow then my “thinking” would be different – I think 🙂

  27. Just went to a show at SFMOMA while I was there and saw an exhibit about the history of California photography. Adams, White, Weston, etc., they all were represented. The best prints on the wall by far? Brett Weston. I even mentioned it on my blog, and then I log in tonight and you saw the same thing. And in my case, with the few prints each of those greats had there, the comparison wasn’t even close. I was stunned, actually. I knew Brett was good, but in person up close . . . astounding.

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