What Happens to Your Photos?


I was watching a special on Showtime called Finding Vivian Maier. It is up for an Oscar this year for Best Documentary, and my guess is not many would know the name of this mysterious and wildly strange woman photographer profiled in the documentary.

You would likely have to be in the photography world to have heard of this passionate American street photographer, or else, have seen the documentary on TV.


I will spare you her interesting history, but she was one of the most prolific photographers of her era, with upwards of 100,000 photographs she took with her Rolleiflex camera – negatives, images and video stored away in trunks and boxes only discovered decades later. She had died virtually unknown in 2009, only three years before John Maloof purchased her negatives at auction. The documentary is as much about him as he reconstructed her secretive life and printed her as yet discovered work for exhibition.


Watching her story, I realized how easy it is to be a good or even great photographer and not have it available to the pubic. She was very poor at the end of her life and did not use a computer to catalog and promote her work for others to see.

In a way, that actually is a good thing because the internet is saturated with photographers and likely she would have blended in with the masses had she decided to create a website. By keeping her work private and the work discovered posthumously, she became a photographic sensation as much for the captivating work as for her secretive life.

So of course, this gets anyone taking 100,000 photos like myself asking, “What will happen to my photographs?” I don’t actively promote them for sale, but have sold some. In fact, most of the images in this post I have lost the originals.

When I am gone, the photos will be lost and forgotten. I have no plans in place for otherwise. I always thought the internet images will persist, but read recently that certain social media accounts get shut down after one’s death. Also in the fine print of user agreements, no other individual can take over that account in some cases. If passwords are passed on to survivors, then possibly an account can continue, but the user agreement may forbid that as well. Inactive accounts get removed too. WP accounts will revert to free accounts and have this message when searched. This was my blog that I abandoned but did not delete.

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So the question comes back to you. Do you care what happens to your photographs after you are gone? Would you like to become famous like Vivian? She knew she was talented and competent in her work, but still did not have the desire to get the images in galleries or publish them, but now they are. Her work was vastly expressive, her eye keen for composition, subject matter, atmosphere and design always present in her work. Check her out. Likely street photography is not your cup of tea, but she really was a good photographer.


About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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42 Responses to What Happens to Your Photos?

  1. I really find her personal story to be compelling, this was such a special bit of writing…I have always imaged that at the end of my life I have one chance to look back and see my footprints in the sand just disappearing.

    • It was an interesting story. Her being a nanny of convenience especially. To get free housing, board and the ability to roam the streets all day. Also, it seemed as if she forced her way to photographing some of those subjects, whether murders, accidents or even people who did not want their photo taken. I think when I go, it will be footprints in the snow. Unless of course, I am kaput on Maui. 😀

  2. I recently saw and loved that film, and her photos.

    Sounds like WordPress will keep our blogs up when we pass on? I hope so; friends tell me parts of mine are a good history of these times where I live.

  3. David says:

    I first heard about her and saw some of her photos about two or three years ago. I think it was in a blog called The Online Photographer mentioning a book being published about her. You mention 100,000 photos. I would guess taking 100,000 photos was a much bigger deal in the pre-digital age given the cost for film, film development, and printing and the time involved in developing and printing.

    Also, I really like these bird photos.

  4. Interesting thoughts. It got me thinking about whether our work on our blogs is protected if WordPress suddenly disappears one day. Do you have a back up for all your blog posts?

    • I did at one time save blog posts. But now, with over 900 posts, no way. I really don’t care if my posts persist. I don’t even care if WP disappears. I would just use my images and make new thoughts. People have saved my posts I know on occasion, even to other platforms.

  5. alesiablogs says:

    I watched the story about Vivian about a year ago. I don’t think she would have minded her work being shown if handled properly. Maybe fate knew the best way for her astonishing work to be noticed. Her photos actually in some odd way inspires me with my own photography. Fun post! And with regards to my own photos- I am thinking they will puff up in smoke like in a Mission Impossible Movie! Haha

    • Fun post??? Did you read the post? It was talking about me dying and then what happens to images. Too bad iPhone reading is so poor.

      • alesiablogs says:

        Maybe fun is not the right word for you, but for me- I didn’t mean it in a funny haha way, but it was a very interesting
        read and does make realize in a crazy way that when you think your work may not be saved on the internet after all. I did read the whole thing. Death has no victory . I consider it just us moving onto another life of which I will be grateful to go to one day.

        • I guess say interesting then. According to the dictionary….

          1 I joined in with the fun | did you have fun? enjoyment, entertainment, amusement, pleasure; jollification, merrymaking; recreation, diversion, leisure, relaxation; a good time, a great time; informal rest and recreation, R and R, a ball. ANTONYMS boredom.
          2 she’s full of fun: merriment, cheerfulness, cheeriness, jollity, joviality, jocularity, high spirits, gaiety, mirth, laughter, hilarity, glee, gladness, lightheartedness, levity. ANTONYMS misery.
          3 he became a figure of fun: ridicule, derision, mockery, laughter, scorn, contempt, jeering, sneering, jibing, teasing, taunting. ANTONYMS respect.

          Unfortunately, the dictionary meanings (3) do not include “interesting”. I think you should inform them what it means to you. 😀

          I doubt death is “another life”. Likely if anything, it is another dimension no one yet knows about. We can only hope it is what we believe. When we get to find out, we may not have consciousness to know what the heck happened. As far as the internet, one day all will be vastly different and I doubt there will be room enough for abandoned blogs.

          • alesiablogs says:

            Oh “Lawd” Donna. I wonder if that southern expression is anywhere in the dictionary! For me it was a good post and I did not really concentrate on your writing here in a bad way or trying to make light of death. It was not my intention whatsoever. I may have to limit my comments I suppose if I come across wrong. I have hated texting for reasons just like this because I do not say things exactly the way others think I should. No offense taken either with your long definition of fun. But does seem over the top.

  6. I remember seeing a special about her (or reading about her) at some point. I’ll have to try to catch that Showtime documentary. Yes, a compelling story. Donna, your photos are so extraordinary it makes sense to frame many of them. Have you done that? I’m picturing a series of your “birds in flight” in a studio somewhere. Have you ever had an exhibition?

    • Thank you Beth. No. I never framed my images. Others have. I have been in galleries, but with my paintings. Photography has never seemed to reach that level for me. I I have been asked to have some images in local shows, just never felt the urge to participate.

  7. sevenroses says:

    Hi! please keep on taking photos! don’t eat, drink or sleep, just keep using your camera!

  8. Lula says:

    I saw the documentary last year and I thought it was a captivating story, not only for the personage, her life but for her concept of being a photographer. Also the work of creating an archive is fascinating, I love that kind of work. Your post rises some of my concerns about my work in this world of virtual existence, I have started to use some programs to download my blogs into books and I will have the printed, but I am also starting to create collections of photos to print as an archive first for me and then for anyone in the future that would want to know about the world I lived in. I believe more and more about objects you can actually touch, I think it is an obvious reaction to excessive digitalization. It also help me be more frugal as it involves costs and time to produce things therefore a need to decide to just have one thing, the meaningful one. I’m seeing this movement attracting more and more adepts, even in the business side, like stationery manufacturers, designers, record producers, etc., makers movement is getting stronger and I think it will help to re-gaine some conscious about serenity. Thanks for bringing this issues in your blog.

    • Making posts into books is a great idea and many are doing that. I have images on hard drives, but no plans other than that. I know my gull images are on a drive, just not on the computer. The meaningful ones? That is the important designation. Which ones is always a tough question. I like my gulls, but doubt any artistic/commercial value. I have sold images to a record producer, book publishers and have been asked for stationary too. Too commercial in mugs and note cards for me. Ticky tacky in most cases too.

  9. “When I am gone, the photos will be lost and forgotten.” Why do you say that? As I’ve told you before, your photos have value. They don’t have to be lost or forgotten if you don’t want them to be.

    • It is true. No plans in the works. I am OK with that too. Getting sick puts all things in perspective. I know we talked about selling images, but I also refused to have them on mugs ans such. Just too “cheap” for all the work it takes to get those nature shots. Not to mention, there are too many photographers already, most not very good. Let them make mugs. Images are subjective, so what I like is not always what others want around them everyday. Who would want that cute gull on their wall?

  10. Jeanette says:

    Your photographs are fantastic and articles thought provoking. If past experience speaks to this question it seems much depends on family or interested individuals to carry on. The internet is such a new medium this topic needs some thought and discussion. Ansel Adams’ family has dedicated his work to a gallery Arizona? and online gallery. I have a photograph from Yosemite taken by Clarence Pillsbury and his granddaughter is trying to keep his legacy alive through a foundation. The Library of Congress is a repository for some photographers. I like the idea of publishing a book. You have many cultural heritage articles. It would be nice to see a museum curator such as Eastman in Rochester, NY address this topic. I have not seen the Vivian Maier film but will look for it soon. I wish you well with your health!

    • I unfortunately don’t have family that photographs would interest. I take personal photographs for them, but then they get them printed, or in the case of one cousin, use them for her business. I myself never had photography aspirations, so I guess that is why my work is pretty much for me and readers here. My real concern is my artwork, paintings and drawings. I am sure relatives will likely want them, but I would rather they find their way for some sort of exhibition. A book is a great idea. It allows others to follow work through time too. Thank you Jeanette. I do hope you see this documentary. I have it on DVR to watch again.

  11. I did not hear or read about this lady who took amazing photographs before and regrettably they didn’t broadcast anything about her here on TV. But now as “Finding Vivian Maier” is up for an Oscar – as you mentioned – there might be a chance to watch the documentary.

    Donna, I don’t mind what will happen with my photos. I often think that a photo which means a lot to me must not necessarily mean a lot to others. If it means a lot to my family they most probably will have a copy of it. No need to go online or to have thousands of photos elsewhere.
    If it appeared on my blog people interested in it could easily have saved a copy or could have contacted me to get a better digital resolution. Generally I would say my focus is on the text, the photos are mostly accompanying in order to emphasize particular points in the text.

    When I think about the posts published I feel there might be two or three which I really would like to be available for others even after my death. I once made a small private obituary when a very kind man died. I remembered some moments and little incidents and I also told about the funeral service which I attended. He had been my tap dance friend for long years – but he also was a well-known German actor. I think at that time when I started to type it, I really only wanted to remember and understand that he had left. During the last years, however, many, many people read this post and I got really moving mails. Whenever they show a movie or – as he played at theatre when he was younger – broadcast a film recording of an old stage play, I notice that people search for him online. They miss him, too.
    This is one example of blog content I want to be in existence for much longer. Two other publications would be of botanical interest.
    One can’t save, store or stock every single thing one had, did or liked. It’s too much which nobody could follow up later on or could ever use. After all, the next generation will have their own priorities. Some written stuff would be useful to tell about the past or our present time so that the future generation might know details (History!) Some photos might me useful in the same way. But not hundreds of full disks. That’s only my personal opinion. ^^

    • Thank you for your experience and comment. You were very fortunate to have had such a friend. It is also wonderful that others can learn about him through your post. I agree, your text is important. You document much about where you are from as well as the history. I also agree about not being able to record and save everything. It is funny because Vivian Maier did save everything in her life, even very insignificant things like found trinkets. I never really thought about what happens to my images after I am gone until I saw this documentary. It really hit me hard seeing some correlation in how private she was with her photographs. While I share online, I did write a post a while back that talked about how some nature photos I keep for myself, and only myself, where I don’t want to share. It was just a line in a post which I have forgotten. Posts for me really can disappear. I would just make more. Nothing is that sacred to me, just my paintings a little, and even them, well if something happened, I would live with it – and make more.

  12. Interesting post. I haven’t really thought about what happens to my images on line. It doesn’t worry me if they get lost. I do have the originals on my hard drive so if if my family want my images they are there. There are so many photographers or wannabee photographers online that it makes me feel small and insignificant and that there are no real “it’ photographers like Ansel et al.
    BTW your photos are stunning

    • Yes, too many photographers online. That is why I thought Vivian was better off not having her work online. She shot what she liked when she liked. I think she had a police scanner for getting those crime scene and car accident images though.
      I do think there are “it” photographers. They are famous earning a good living, but the problem now a days, there are really wonderful photographers nipping at their coattails charging far less. I cannot imagine having to make a living as a photographer. I would love too, but even as a Nat Geo photographer, there is much responsibility to produce. They get paid by what they produce. It is very hard getting those kind of shots, animals and weather are too variable. Time frames and budgets unreasonable.

  13. Maria F. says:

    Vivian Maier was the Henri Cartier-Bresson of the Americas, in female form. I saw the documentary, and I think she knew what she was doing, as very creative people do. The fact that she didn’t show her work was just her personality. Not all artists have candor, are extroverts, or seek to be desperately known. Sometimes it’s more about the experience, and then dying. They don’t get to live the “fame” or are never “recognized” fully for what they did. There have been so many like that, and I think it has to do with temperament. Perhaps they suffer more because of it? I don’t know, but everyone is so different.

    About what happens with the images is a touchy question. I guess whoever is an introvert but still needs recognition should publish for some posterity. Notice that Vivian Maier did not seek recognition, but she sure guarded her boxes full of negatives like her life. Perhaps she knew that those boxes were her legacy, her treasure for the world. I personally think that my images will be published, and I plan to leave nothing online. Why, because the web can cease to work anytime because it depends on energy. Energy is not warranted to anyone, but books will always be there.

    • She did work under a photographer, so learned much from her when she was getting started. Her mother was a photographer too if I remember. I am certain she knew she was very good. They did say she at one time did want to get her images in an exhibit. I am not sure why she chose not to. Her temperament was not very nice to be around from those they interviewed. She was driven at all cost I believe, so that makes it hard to get along with others easily. You are very correct. She guarded those boxes carting them everywhere she went. The funny thing though, she took the magazines and newspapers she hoarded too. Boxes were everywhere. Getting your images published would be very rewarding. The web will be vastly different one day. We are lucky to live now where it is free and open to all. Someday this will change if the web exists at all. One massive hack and it all comes tumbling down.

      • Maria F. says:

        Yes, her life is very fascinating , and you are so right about how the web will evolve, no one really knows.

        Also, I feel publishing makes something more concrete, whereas the web can seem to go on endlessly. At some point ones has to say, well, here I will stop for now, and then publish. Even if it’s a Kindle book, at least it’s something with a beginning and an end.

  14. Another thought-provoking posting, Donna. Your photographs are stunning and should be around for posterity in some form or another — a book, maybe. P. x

  15. Judy’s images are all backed up on Dropbox. I’d like to think that our older son, who does some amateur photography himself, would like to keep the pictures she and I have taken. Of course the quantity is such as to be really overwhelming. Perhaps we should adjust to the fact that our photographs, like our gardens, can stimulate joy for a brief time but still are only transient.

    • My images are all on a separate internal hard drive from my OS (have 3 drives on the MAC), and two external ones not connected directly to the computer. I have another computer with older images as well. My problem is no one here can use a computer but me, nor are they willing to learn. I would have to will them to a friend. You are fortunate to have an interested son.

  16. A.M.B. says:

    I remember when her photos were discovered! I haven’t see the documentary, though. I don’t keep copies of my blog posts, but I should. I’d like my children to read them someday.

  17. I guess I don’t really need to tell you that I never knew Vivian Maier, I still found your post extremely thought provoking. I am not a photographer however I recognise good work when I see the likes of what you can do with the common gull.
    I guess I would like my family to keep my blog going for a while but most of all I would want them to say a final farewell from me.

    • Thank you Alistair. It would be nice to have family keep the blog going to let readers know of your passing. Just last year, a blogger that followed here for years got very sick and died. All the time she was in the hospital, her husband posted updates. It was a very said last post as he was the one that had to give permission to disconnect life support. He talked all about her last words and how at 2am he made that fateful decision. I would not like that for me though. I am too private for all that info made public.

  18. Les says:

    I love Vivian Maier’s work, and have been fascinated by her story since I first saw her photos. I knew a film had been made, but have been waiting for it to be shown at the local art house theater, or to pop up on Netflix. I worry about my photos, as only a handful actually exist beyond a collection of pixels on a computer somewhere. I do keep them in several places, but all we need is one good North Korean EMP and they will be lost forever.

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