Expired: Your Photo Collection What will you do with them?
A photographer asked me, “Thirty-five years ago a museum offered to store a significant artistic/historical collection of photographs of mine.
"The museum is a small but significant private facility, and there was a social relationship between myself and the museum director. No paperwork was offered or asked for. I recently requested the collection back, and the new director of the museum indicated in a letter that the collection cannot be found, although several other interim museum directors remember the photos in the archives.
"Any suggestions for legal assistance?"
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My reply to him was, an attorney would no doubt be able to help him if he can document that the museum was in possession of his photos. He needs to gather witnesses, diaries, written quotes from museum employees, and other documentation such as correspondence, or photos of his photos, etc. that record his situation.
As in all disputes, firm evidence and witnesses are paramount. Hearsay won't work in a court of law. But his experience brings up something important as we move along in the digital age.
Photographers with an important collection of photographs, either acquired or developed by themselves over the years, no longer have to first expect to just donate their historical collection to a museum, university, or similar non-profit organization.
The new practice in our industry will be to place such a collection as an annuity, with a family member, a colleague, or an employee, as custodian of the files. The collection can begin working right away for the photographer by utilizing an on-line database such as the PhotoSourceBANK > http://www.photosource.com/bank < which photo researchers consult to locate specific pictures.
KEYWORDING IS A 'MUST'
If you keyword (caption) each photo in your collection with highly specific keywords, a researcher will be able to employ the Internet to locate the source of such a photo -- you.
Your experience with the museum is not uncommon. Non-profit organizations have been known to readily accept photographic collections, only to store them away in a basement closet. A generation later, a worker discovers the carton of photos, all damaged by humidity and neglect, trashes them, and makes room for the cycle to repeat itself. Unless you can get a firm (in writing) commitment from an organization to protect your photo collection in storage, avoid the arrangement. Instead, market them yourself or arrange for a colleague to do it and split the profits.
It seems like the right thing to do, donate your lifelong collection of photos to a local college, university or museum, sit back, and wait for the accolades to start pouring in. While a non-profit agency or institution frequently is eager to accept your donation, too often your photos simply get stored away in a cocoon. A better alternative: advertise your collection on the Internet and set up an annuity for your heirs.
Can a donation to a non-profit organization be used as a write-off?
The IRS looks at artwork (which includes photos, both vintage and contemporary) as pieces of replaceable paper. Only if you have sold a particular photo or a similar photo(s) for a certain price and can document the sale(s) with a receipt, will the IRS usually consider a monetary value for the pictures you wish to declare as a donation.
If you are a photographer celebrity, the courts may look at your situation differently. Otherwise, they place very little value (limited to the cost to reprint the image) on a photo. A museum or university might have a development officer able to place a value to your photo collection (a professional educated guess), but whether that value could serve as a tax write-off might be challenged by the IRS.
As an editorial stock photographer you are going to find much more enjoyment when you are photographing subject matter that you like to take. Learn more about how to sell those pictures at PhotoSource International, Pine Lake Farm, 1910 35th Road, Osceola, WI 54020 USA. Rohn Engh is director of and publisher of ,i>PhotoStockNotes. E-mail: email@example.com Fax: 1 715 248 3800; www.photosource.com