What Happens to My Artwork After I Die?



Like many photographers of a certain age, I still have hundreds of prints from a decades long career. Not surprisingly, I ponder what to do with them as I get older and have intimations of mortality. What will happen to my work after I’m gone? What can I do about it now? Assuming that you, too, are an artist of a certain age and have an inventory of work, here are some questions to consider and, I hope, answer.

  1. What are you doing with the work that you still have?
  2. Do you have a plan for the distribution of your work after your death?
  3. Is there someone—a curator, collector, dealer—who champions your work?
  4. Do you have a friend, spouse or someone else with whom you have an agreement concerning bequeathing, trading or selling your work?
  5. Are you engaged in collaborations with other artists dealing with this or related issues?

No comments here yet, but several “likes” on Facebook.

Here’s what I have done thus far:

  • Thrown out several hundred dupes, 2nd prints and mediocre images.
  • Contacted museums that either have some of my work or others where a donation would be appropriate; e.g., a series shot in New Orleans to a museum in New Orleans.
  • Donated a series of the flood wall in Louisville to the University of Louisville’Photographic Archives. Donated works by three local photographers and a photographer from Cincinnati to the Archives.
  • Have not and will not donate the most valuable works that I own by others. Hopefully, they will benefit my heirs.

Here’s an idea: get together with some of your photographer friends and trade work, lots of work. That way you will be able to donate each other’s works at fair market value to your favorite museum or nonprofit, something tax laws don’t allow you to do with your own work.. There are more options to collaborating, which I’ll share with you next time.

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