Is it okay to destroy your own photographs if ... ?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by unrealnature, Aug 14, 2014.

  1. Do you think it's okay to destroy your own photographs* if people who know of them and who want them -- whether for historic, scientific, anthropological, ethnographic, or simply sentimental reasons; if such people either can't or won't pay what you are asking for the photographs?
    What about if they will pay, but you don't want them to have them because, for example, you think the pictures suggest things that you don't agree with? Is it okay to destroy the photographs?
    Is 'your' photograph in some cases (or all cases?) not entirely 'yours'?
    [*note that I'm not talking about photographers who were working for hire when the pictures were made]
  2. As I have always understood it, the photo belongs, legally, to the person holding (not OWNING) the camera when it is shot, unless you were working for hire or some other arrangement were made, which you weren't, and even then it's dodgy sometimes. (That's why the famous academy award "selfie" that Ellen took legally belongs to Jennifer Lawrence! She was holding the camera.)
    So, if you took a photo under the circumstances you mention, it belongs to you.
    If they can't afford them, tough beans. Don't take their calls until they can.
    If you have serious issues with them, destroy them. I think I'd say they were destroyed but not physically destroy/delete them.
  3. >>> Do you think it's okay to destroy your own photographs* if people who know of them and who want
    them -- whether for historic, scientific, anthropological, ethnographic, or simply sentimental reasons; if such
    people either can't or won't pay what you are asking for the photographs?

    Huh? You also have the option of simply not selling or giving *your* photographs to a party who may want
    them, for money or no money. Being *your* photographs you can also "destroy" them if, desired. I'm assuming you are not speaking about photographs that might be considered evidence of a crime - there may be issues in such situations, especially if subpoenaed.

    Why do you propose destruction as (apparently) the only option available if you do not want to sell your photographs to
    a party that has expressed interest?
  4. I don't think Ms. H. is talking about legalities, but some sort of moral/ethical obligation to preserve pictures one has taken. I don't know, really. I have two I took of my beloved dying in the ICU, and while I don't feel I can show them to anyone, I can't bring myself to delete them. I'm probably going to pass the puzzle on to my kids when I die.
  5. So few people have asked for one of my pictures that I would consider it an honor if they would. No one has ever offered to pay me for them. I would gladly sell them if the price was right and they can do with them what they like. But why would I burn it? Sure, if I've taken a picture that would embarrass me, I wouldn't want it to get out regardless of the situation so then I might destroy it.
    Actually I see this happening with personal shots that I would take that doesn't show the subject well. In those cases I wouldn;t show them those shots, but the better ones. But that's just out of courtesy not to offend them. Although I'm not a pro, I would also not show my client the bad shots to protect my reputation. Customers are very funny that way. They all want to look like princes and princesses.
  6. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    I don't understand why this question is being asked. The photographer can destroy any photos they own. They can do whatever they want except for situations that have legal constraints, e.g., photos used in advertising. There's really nothing to this.
  7. "What about if they will pay, but you don't want them to have them because, for example, you think the pictures suggest
    things that you don't agree with? Is it okay to destroy the photographs?"

    I disagree VERY STRONGLY with the KKK, but I have more than a few photographs of them, and I'd neither sell them to
    the KKK or destroy them.

    Bottom line: they are your photos to whatever you want with them.

    I suspect you know this Julie, but I am curious as to why you ask.
  8. Julie, I think you are putting too much importance on the viewer or possible viewer and not on your own belief in the worth of a photographer's creation (yours, or another), that is on your own idea of the value of your work. Personally I see no value in allowing others to decide the fate of my work. And if for some reason I decide to destroy a negative, print or file, it is simply my decision.
  9. Ellis, I'm thinking about history and community re photography.
    Is history 'someone else's' responsibility? Not your problem? It's your history too.
    And are community interests irrelevant to you?
    I'll have more to say in the morning. So far I'm kind of surprised at the unanimity (Ellis aside) of the responses (not disappointed, just surprised). Maybe Carol Gilligan was right ...
  10. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    So far I'm kind of surprised at the unanimity (Ellis aside) of the responses​

    Ellis seems to agree with everyone else:
    Bottom line: they are your photos to whatever you want with them.​
    When did my photographs become someone else's concern? This seems like the most full of straw strawman I've seen lately.
  11. Maybe Carol Gilligan was right ...​
    You could fill a thimble (maybe...) with what I know about Carol Gilligan. And all that I do know involves justice based morality and care based morality (the former predominantly male, the latter predominantly female). So I see this thread (started by a female), and I read the responses (male), but excepting the male/female part of the equation, I don't get the Gilligan connection. Not that it matters, because I'm not sure I even know how to respond to the original question. It's as if it's missing some significant context because I just know there's a subtle aspect being missed between what you're asking, and what respondents seem to think you are asking.
  12. I wouldn't destroy a photo I made because I disagree with what someone else thinks it means or says. Actually, I look forward to the different meanings people give it and the different feelings people derive from it. That being said, if someone were to try to use one of my photos as propaganda for a cause I found objectionable, and the only way I had to combat that was by destroying it, sure, I might destroy it.

    Since I don't do much selling of my photos, and even though I do take responsibility for them on many levels, I'm not terribly possessive of them in terms of needing to see them as "mine." Portraits I make I will often refer to as ours, along with the subjects of the photos. And once I put a photo out there on view, I understand I give up a lot of control over how it will be seen and interpreted. That's part of the ball game to me. I think of photos as shared, especially when it comes to ways that don't involve commerce. Since they express and communicate, in important (non-legal) ways they are not the sole property of the maker.

    As usual, it's hard to answer the question generally and I would assess the "OK-ness" of destroying one's own photos based on the particular situation. So, for example, if a photographer took a picture of an important social injustice taking place and then destroyed it because no one offered to pay enough for it, I'd think he was well within his legal rights to do so but I wouldn't think it particularly "OK" to do that. I'd think it mercenary and self serving and would prefer the public good to be considered and the photo not to be destroyed. But there's no general rule that would serve all situations, IMO.
    While a lot of great photos express the individual photographer's vision, I also place important photos in a historical context (and sometimes an art historical context). Doing that, for me, works toward fulfilling the potential to make each photo bigger than itself and bigger than the particular individual who created it. A photo can become part of a wider cultural, temporal, or situational story and at some point continuing to describe it as "mine" just doesn't cut it, IMO.
    Though not in any legal or commercial sense, of course, the photo of Iwo Jima, the photo of John John saluting JFK's casket, Adams's photos of Yosemite, Weston's pepper are ours. IMO, it would be perfectly legal, but not "OK" for the creator or owner of any of those original photos to destroy them.
  13. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    Though not in any legal or commercial sense, of course, the photo of Iwo Jima, the photo of John John saluting JFK's casket, Adams's photos of Yosemite, Weston's pepper are ours. IMO, it would be perfectly legal, but not "OK" for the creator or owner of any of those original photos to destroy them.​

    The "public" being able to tell an individual that it is "not OK" to do something with that individual's own property is what is called tyranny and has no place in a fair society.
  14. "Is 'your' photograph in some cases (or all cases?) not entirely 'yours'?"
    If I took a picture of a crime in progress, a verifiable alien sighting, or anything that might have moral, ethical or humanitarian implications, it might cause me to feel the picture does not entirely belong to me.
  15. When we talk about iconic, culturally significant photographs (significant to huge proportions of that particular culture) such as Iwo Jima, John John saluting, Martin Luther King -- any of the types of photographs Fred mentioned -- there is no tyranny in a public which says it is "not okay" to destroy that photograph. They have no legal power to prevent its destruction, nor should they. But they do have the right to bring moral opinion (or cultural opinion or whatever you want to call it) to bear. And, in Michael's example of a bona fide photograph of the existence of an alien culture there is the humanitarian (in the sense of importance to humanity) aspect to consider. There too, no one can, or should, legally prevent the photographer from destroying the photo. But public opinion can be used as an appeal to what might be considered a greater good.
    But, again, I suspect that this is not what Julie was talking about. Or was it?
  16. Wherever you are, look around. Or better yet, walk out the door and look around. Do you see any 'history' lying around? Where is it? What is it?
    How about looking at yourself. What's your identity? Does it (whatever it is) exist absent some kind of history?
    How does that history get made? Who does it? What are their motivations? Why is it one way and not the other? What constitutes the community that sustains, supports, and to a large extent, defines who and what you are?
    Do you want a top down history (think pharaohs)? Or do you want a bottom up history (think Pompeii)?
    Should you have to pay for your history or is history a common good? How much is 'enough' history? Do you want a thick history, generated locally, full of detail (bottom up); or do you want a thin history, great leaders, wars, dates (top down)?
    If a developer who is building a new supermarket or skyscraper turns up historical, archaeological or older remains, in most places, he is required to allow historians of some kind to salvage the site before he continues building. Yet if a historical researcher knows that somebody has a cache of historically significant photographs, he has no right to claim them. Yes, the photographer 'made' the pictures, where dinosaur bones and cave paintings are not relevant today; but the historical content that photographs contain, with which they overflow, was not 'made' by the photographer.
    Historians nowadays can survey the undifferentiated landscape of billions of photographs, just as you may survey the undifferentiated physical landscape of the world. Out of that everything (which is therefore nothing meaningful), they will hope to pick the threads of meaning that tell our story. Do you feel any responsibility to help them if you happen to have been the one that recorded some part of one of those threads?
    It is a paradox of democracy that equality allows people to withdraw into themselves at the same time that the success of a democracy depends on vibrant local political and social participation -- that will limit the centralization of power. Local people (that's you) know your own story best; you know what is important, true, relevant to your own identity and history. Photography has an important role to play in the common good.
    [Steve, my thimble of Gilligan knowledge may be even smaller than yours. The gist of it is that men tend to think in terms of rules where women tend to think in terms of care.]
  17. Mostly History is like dust, slowly accumulating., Political, social, and military histories are swept into piles that are
    pleasing to the sensibilities of the person wielding the broom.
  18. Ellis...
    brilliant... is that yours?
  19. There are city kids who don't know that milk comes out of a cow's tit. One that was covered with s*** till the farmer gave it a two-second swab with disinfectant.
  20. Most communities, large cities and small towns, usually have some group that saves historical photos of their community. Think of all the photos that Google map does as they drive around to photograph their "street" views.
    However, I don't think we need another government agency, let' call it the Historical Photo Administration, that will go through millions of photos and decide which photos people have to keep, turn over to the Agency, or dispose of because someone at the agency might decide they don't show the community in a good light. Remember, there's that negative side of disposing what certain groups might not like as soon as you give power to the government to decide what's valuable to keep and what should be disposed of. They use to burn books too.
  21. Paradox of democracy, Julie? No, this is a strength of democracy. I may choose to withdraw to whatever extent suits me.
    I do agree with you statement about photography playing an important role in helping society achieve the common good. Hopefully photography's merit will n;to be evaluated entirely on utilitarian grounds.
  22. Alan: "However, I don't think we need another government agency, let' call it the Historical Photo Administration..."
    Too late! Already has a name, the national archives:
    Getting Started

    With digital images and some basic information, it’s easy to get started:
    1. Create an account on Flickr
    2. Upload your images and add basic information
    3. Request to “join” the group
    4. Request to “add photos” to the group
  23. Julie, I think your questions are part of a bigger question about what we possess, and what we can do with our possessions. Answers vary by culture and time. Should a person be able to possess, and have free reign over: a piece of land; water that is on or under that land; livestock; pets; a fetus; another person? At a minimum, a person should be able to possess their own body and have control over what they do with it or to it, and they should possess the fruits of their labor. Yet, complete possession and rule over by one person of any of the things I mentioned isn't the current reality.

    So when an artist burns his or her paintings, or when Steichen or Weston destroys his negatives, I have no quarrel with that. I understand your question about historically significant photos - what if Zapruder had decided to destroy his film for some reason? There is a down side to recognizing that it was his to do with as he wanted.
  24. People like to collect things. Just check my garage and attic. There's an innate fear that if we throw out something, a part of us goes too. It's a way for our ego to keep our identity whole. Of course as I am getting older, I'm finding the baggage is getting very heavy to drag around any longer. Having recently moved, I still have loads of slides, negatives and pictures that I've been keeping, some for 60 years. It's time to let go. Or at least a lot of it. I haven't looked at most in years. Guess what? I'll be OK without all this stuff. There's a feeling of being clean when you let go of parts of the past. It frees you up to move on. A burden removed. Arguing that keeping my photos for some community posterity is just my ego showing it's fear.
  25. We often forget that photographers are morally responsible creatures just as non-photographers can be. Whether one uses the descriptors of "care" or "rules" in describing the use of that moral sense, does it really matter? I or another photographer of an image control the what, why and how the image will be made and used. Nobody orders me to make a photo. I do it from my own curiosity or aesthetic or moral or other reasoning and it is a product of how I view what is around me.
    It exists only as long as I wish it to or when I am alive to do so. Whether it is a delete button in camera or post exposure or chopping up or burning negatives, of what right is it to impose another's sensitivity or view on me or my products. While there are certainly cases where it may behove the society to attempt to control the destiny of my photographs in view of their possible relation to things of importance to that society, that is a rare happening, and should be so I think. As the creator of the image, I may ponder its possible significance to society and I will debate in my own mind whether the image can serve the society by being promulgated or destroyed. But it is my responsibility and not that of a third party.
  26. What if the items aren't photographs? But they have some value (historic, sentimental, etc.) to others than the owner? This "value" is somewhat (OK, completely) vague in the OP, yet the owner desires to be paid., more than is/was offered? Does the owner have the right to destroy the items? Sure. Should he or she?
    Should Solomon cut the baby in half?
  27. If you legally own something, you own it. Period. You can do what you like with an item that you own.
    Since in our western societies we can no longer "own" people (thank God), the Solomon/baby argument doesn't really apply.
    Too much thinkin'...
  28. I think Julie is talking about conscience and ethics, not law and order. I don't think it will be easy to give a general answer to that. I believe there can be situations where I felt that someone else might have some rights to an image that I made. Maybe the most general answer would be that if you hurt someone by destroying the image, then there might be something to consider...
  29. Isn't it a little egotistical to think that my photos have to be saved for posterity's and society's sake? Would someone post a link to one of the photos any of us have posted that requires to be "saved"? Isn't this all a little silly?
  30. Julie "...whether for historic, scientific, anthropological, ethnographic, or simply sentimental reasons..."
    Anything I deliberately place outside in my trash cans is like jetsam and the finder generally becomes the new owner of the items if they want. If I put a cache of money into the trash however, that's like flotsam because no one intentionally throws good money away, no one in their right mind would intend to throw money into the trash, and that intentional act may earn a person a conservator.
    So if you take a printed photograph and throw it into an outside trash bin for collection: your assumption may be that the printed photograph will be destroyed. However once you intentionally throw anything into the outside trash you may no longer be its rightful owner and may have no say in its ultimate disposition.
    So when we throw something away, we'll often not want that it ultimately be destroyed. Someone else may be able to use it and we often make an effort to leave something intact as we put it in the trash.
    At some point in time the only value most photos have is historic, scientific, anthropological, ethnographic, nostalgic, etc.
    I don't think the question is "Should my Windows recycle bin be a port to the national archives."
    Do you entirely destroy photographs before throwing them away? Because, photos thrown away just like other trash: if all you're going to do with them is throw them away, can you at least not destroy them before throwing them away? That way, thrown away intact, they can then at least have some vaguely sensed use to someone as historic, scientific, anthropological, ethnographic, nostalgic, etc.? Instead of just destroying them, can you donate some of them while still intact to the national archives?
  31. Toward the end of his life, Brett Weston discussed with interviewer Steve Anchell the complex issues of reprinting another photographer's work (something Weston had much experience with), and his plans to donate a dozen or so of his own negatives to a university - but the negs would first be scratched or otherwise defaced or damaged. The interview was in 1991 and Weston probably did not anticipate sophisticated editing software that could repair such damage and effectively recreate a negative.
    Weston's view was nuanced to accommodate other possibilities:
    "I don’t want students printing my work. Architectural, news, photo-documentary, that’s another matter. It’s a very personal thing. Would you want strangers printing your work?"
    I would be inclined to emphasize that certain types of photographic images - notably news and documentary - are effectively in the public domain, even if the photographer or owner retains the copyright and most rights to compensation or benefits accruing to the copyright holder. He or she owns the negative (or digital equivalent) prints, rights to commercial usage and most editorial usage.
    But the image - the almost intangible memetic unit of visual communication - has effectively become public domain. The photographer enjoyed certain benefits (admittedly of a type that is difficult to estimate in conventional terms of accounting) due to the memetic nature of the image in the public domain. Certain photographs attain a high level of recognition as iconic images that represent not merely the actual original subject and/or incident, but also concepts. The most widely recognized photo of Che Guevara is an example. It represents the man himself. It represents the concept of that dashing spirit of revolution (however inaccurately and inappropriately). It has also become a visual trope, such that a stylized photograph of anyone who has provoked a bit of a revolution even at a minor level can become Che for a day; or for 15 minutes.
    We can all think of dozens of photos that have attained an iconic level, due primarily to the memetic force of public recognition, which creates velocity, value and interpretations beyond anything the original photographer, owner or publisher intended or anticipated: McCurry's "Afghan Girl" photo of Sharbat Gula, and the unsettling homage portrait of Bibi Aisha (Aesha Mohammadzai) by Jodi Bieber; Eddie Adams' photo of Nguyen Ngoc Loan publicly executing Nguyen Van Lem; any of the several Marilyn Monroe skirt scene photos from The Seven Year Itch. Even some fine art photographs beyond the news or documentary genres, even those that don't feature any human presence, may have entered the realm of public domain imagery, in the sense that the public claims a certain common ownership of the image, without regard to the legal status of the copyright.
    The photographer or owner may choose to destroy the negatives, prints, digital files and any tangible trace of the photograph, and may attempt to suppress any usage - but in the case of such iconic images the effort is futile. The image - the intangible visual message and its associated memetic baggage - belongs to the public who endowed it with such significance.
    Flora Borsi's clever time-travel photos, in which she inserts herself as snapshooter into iconic pop culture and news photos, extend the Forrest Gump riff on the notion of public claims on the reinvention of images.
    And some photographers might argue that such usage and reinterpretation - authorized or unauthorized - may effectively "destroy" their work anyway. I'd be more inclined to say it's an act of destorying rather than destroying.
  32. An interesting topic but I'm surprised that the main reason for destroying your photographs or any artwork, for that matter, hasn't really had much of a run. A huge percentage of what we do simply fails our own "quality" standards and in a sense is an embarrassment to our concept of ourselves as an artist, so culling becomes an important tool for expression.
    I am very rigorous in making sure that what I think of as substandard examples of my work are effectively destroyed. A friend of mine, a potter used to dump all his second class work at the public garbage tip until one day when he was visiting someone's home he noticed a substantial collection of his work, he now smashes everything in tiny pieces. I'd go as far as suggesting that artists that don't take this kind of control over their work lack integrity.
  33. Alan, "Would someone post a link ... ?" It's kind of hard to link to deleted photos. If I do post a link, you will correctly shout SEE!! IT WASN'T DELETED!

    I can sketch hypotheticals. First, I'm thinking of the most mundane, boring stuff that is of public historical interest. Pictures that have zero artistic appeal of common events with lots of people or which show practices characteristic of a particular place or local activity. Usually worthless as current news or art; often invaluable to historians and archivists.

    Second, amateur pictures that show the participants in what might be taken as an unsavory or unflattering light -- usually made by somebody on the 'inside.' The pinnacle of that kind of picture would be the Abu Ghraib snaps. Take that down a notch or two where it's not criminal, but it's not ... nice ... either. A lot of art photographers make hay out of this kind of borderline taste (see Larry Clark, and many others) but there's not such haymakers in every community ready to record, save and make available the full character, warts and all, of a group's true 'nature.'

    Third, (and therefore strongly disagreeing with Clive's "culling becomes an important tool for expression"), outtakes from either artistic or professional projects with documentary (people, places, events, structures) content. For example, the out-takes from W. Eugene Smith's photo essays would easily be of interest to historians (I believe those are available). Or, a more recent example (just picking one off the top of my head). Larry Sultan made an excellent book, The Valley, on the adult film industry (aka porn). I would think that the out-takes from that would be very useful and informative to future historians or writers interested in the how the adult film industry worked in our time.

    Almost the entire picture history of African Americans before and for a time after, emancipation was made by those not interested in or actively hostile to their story. I would guess that many photos of that time were destroyed. Zealy and Agassiz probably would have destroyed theirs, if they had not already been in reach of the public.
    The pictures of Jacob Riis, integral to the history of immigrant New York, were almost lost due to neglect: "I [Alexander Alland, Sr.] went to the Museum of the City of New York, the New York Historical Society, the New York Public Library, city and social agencies and finally the Jacob A. Riis Neighborhood Settlement House. I could not find a single Riis photograph; I could find anyone who knew anything about his photography. My search widened. I inquired of the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian, the George Eastman Museum of Photography. I contacted photo agencies, newspaper morgues, manufacturers of lantern slides. I checked books and magazines devoted to photography during the years from 1880 to 1900. Not one mentioned Riis." Alland contacted relatives, who were not interested ... and only by bulldog persistence turned up various caches of negatives, lantern slides and prints. The rest is history. Riis didn't delete or destroy his material, but his descendants were at first not cooperative.
    Teenie Harris's negatives were, for a time, in the hands of an unscrupulous person who rifled them for famous/celebrity content and more or less threw the rest away. There was a bit of luck and a legal battle in their recovery.
    Lex, Brett Weston only donated a dozen of his hole-punched promised-never-to-be-printed negatives to the ICP after Dianne Nilsen begged, wept, pleaded and otherwise howled in pain while he was actually in the process of burning and/or hosing with water and then dumping crates of negatives into garbage (he had planned to burn them all, but they became concerned about the fumes). At the very last minute, she finally got him to agree to the saved bunch: "With only a few hours left ... we dashed back and went through several thousand remaining negatives" to choose those which survive. I'm not terribly interested in B. Weston's negs being saved (they are not of people, events or structures and only rarely of identifiable places), though I sympathize with the Ms. Nilson who wanted them for future historians of his work.
  34. Julie H [​IMG][​IMG], Aug 14, 2014; 06:36 a.m.
    Do you think it's okay to destroy your own photographs...​
    Julie: Your OP question had to do with our photos, not Smith's or the Abu Gharib snaps. I'll ask again. Can you provide a link to one of my photos, or yours, or anyone who posts here whose picture must be kept for posterity sake? I promise not to claim, "See, it wasn't deleted." which I had never intended to claim anyway if any are found.
    My point is that even if there are one or two we can find, 99.9% of photos are really only important to us or our families and friends. Frankly, that's what may make them the most valuable of all.
  35. >>> Julie: Your OP question had to do with our photos, ...

    And the destruction of said photos was conditioned by: if people who know of them and who want them, if
    such people either can't or won't pay what you are asking for the photographs.
  36. What's your point?
  37. >>> What's your point?

    My point is trying to understand the very specific circumstances Julie had in mind at the top of the thread that would cause a photographer to destroy their photographs; i.e., when another party is interested in their photographs but will not pay, or will not pay the price the photographer is asking.
  38. I""s 'your' photograph in some cases (or all cases?) not entirely 'yours'?"

    Nice that Julie keeps this forum alive.

    But your photos what else is there to talk about? Is a bogey man going to steal during the hide them under your bed...just in case that bogey man gets them...or, even worse Julie.
  39. Let us be honest 99.999% of photos will die a death of obscurity. Nobody is interested in your little banal worthless efforts.....that simple to understand.
    But you, are a master of photography, a shining light of photograph mastery.
    In other words you are enjoying yourself; what else matters? Live the dream.
  40. When a parrot has been shut up with a crow,
    He thinks it a stroke of luck to get out of the cage.
  41. Julie,
    There are ways to carry out your notion that everything you photograph might have significance to someone else to silly extremes. Should I keep my mistakes? How about all the duplicates my camera can take all by itself through its programming? What about still lives and studio pieces that shed no light on contemporary living at all? Nudes? Bodies haven't changed all that much over the years. Which photos are which?
    It seems to me that you are making yourself very busy by trying to put your mind into someone else's head! Naturally, ALL my photographs document a modern narrative historians and social scientists will DIE to get their hands on! ... I'm not so sure about yours... :)
    On a more serious note, you can put yourself in the place of someone who makes an effort to cull value out of everyday things if you have ever had to liquidate the estate of someone close to you after they have passed away. You have to make decisions about things that are still useful, but that you simply don't need for yourself.
    IMO, It's probably best to mind your own business so as to let the historians decide for themselves what is significant and what is not. (They won't pay attention to you for all your concern anyway.)
    On the other hand, you have to talk about something over a beer!
  42. Some of my photographs are destroyed the moment that I capture them. Or at least, they should be.
  43. Marx once consigned his earlier manuscripts to the "gnawing criticism of the mice".
    Nowadays, we can consign our older work to the "rotting criticism of the data levels on magnetic or optical disks".
    Entropy is inevitable, enjoy it.
  44. So Julie are you asking if ones photographs become or should become part of the public domain because they may have anthropological, cultural and historical significance in a way that a current photographer may not realize and perhaps may have importance after the life of the photographer? If that is what your asking, I wish you would have just asked it because your original question is confusing. So of course there is no "right" answer, however legally, the answer is you can do anything you want with your photos. And if you want to destroy your "history" how can that be anyone's but your choice, unless there are some special circumstances. Are you required to keep every word you've ever written? Some photographers have been concerned with their legacy, but it can only be a self-choice. More importantly, what do you think?
  45. Not only is it OK to destroy them, but I think it may be even arguable that we have a duty to do so. If society puts a very low value on imagery and allows it to be stolen, allows the creator of the image to be exploited, refuses to allow a reasonable value to be put on it, drops the economic rights to exploit the imagery into the hands of corporations, allows it to be used and abused without our permission, then our duty is to make sure that it doesn't fall into that society's hands.

  46. Simon: Copyright laws in America protect the photographer and their heirs against theft. However, its monetary value is determined by agreement between the seller and buyer.
  47. The value of the imagery is determined by the market, in America like everywhere else.
    The market is greatly affected by the rights attached to those images. So a weak law that has a policy of allowing corporations to build businesses off the back of those images, for example by allowing excessive 'fair use' provisions in the law, that provides safe harbour provisions that allow images to be spread around the likes of Pinterest and Facebook with no realistic prospect of preventing the use, government policy of opening up further abuse through the likes of orphan works provisions, and a legal system that makes it difficult and costly to bring action to prevent the abuse and enforce the weak rights that do exist, mean that imagery has little value. It only starts to get real value when agglomerated into huge numbers and exploited by corporations, acting legally or illegally (see for example Google image search which stretches 'fair use' to its very limits and probably beyond).
    The actual image owner/creator doesn't have many options in the face of this, but one logical approach is simply to stop producing images and/or destroy what has already been produced.
  48. There's always theft regardless of the industry. Look what's going on in the shoe, watch, and apparel industries with "knock-offs". But what percent of the total use of photography for commercial purposes is due to theft? I'm sure it's very small.
    If you're overly concerned that your photos will be stolen, then don't post them or post just small versions.
  49. "But what percent of the total use of photography for commercial purposes is due to theft? I'm sure it's very small."
    The overwhelming majority of use of images by people other than the owner is theft - such as the posting of found images on Facebook. Facebook is of course highly commercial - Facebook's or Pinterests business (in Facebook's case, valued at $192 billion, in Pinterest's case, valued at $5 billion) essentially relies to a large extent on facilitating theft and hiding behind safe harbour provisions. But it's hard to say that that kind of use is non-commercial, when it is one of the US economy's biggest businesses. It's just that a share in the business of exploiting the images doesn't make its way back to the person who owns the images.
    Of course, with a picture, like with a movie, the end use is always a human being looking at it, (corporations don't have eyes). That can give rise the illusion that that final act of looking is non-commercial ("I'm just a private individual, not a corporation"), which is why people can think that, say, sharing pictures on Facebook is non-commercial use. But it isn't of course non-commercial, any more than sharing a pirated movie is non-commercial. Movies in the end are also like pictures in that they get their value from the end act of the public watching them. Theft is theft, but unfortunately the legal system is only geared up to protect the value of imagery for corporations that are exploiting the value in other people's IP.
    I say this not as some left-wing anti-capitalism type, but as someone who believes in a free market and the right and freedom to do business. I just don't like the way that the law - and society - provides barely effective protection for imagery, disincentives for individuals to produce and share their work, and is weighted firmly in favour of secondary exploitation by large corporations and firmly against the creative individual.
    protection for property and
  50. If you're overly concerned that your photos will be stolen, then don't post them​

    As you say Alan, the only remedy for the individual is not to post work. Or not to take it in the first place. Or to destroy it and make sure it doesn't make it out their into the 'public domain'.
  51. Simon: I'm sorry you've had this problem. It must be awful when you discover people have been using your photos without paying you. In America, there is a substantial penalty that people have to pay beyond the actual value of the use of the photo when copyright laws are violated. That's mainly for commercial use rather than let's say for some person who uses your photo for their computer desk background. But regardless, it has to be a sore point when this happens to you.
  52. It's happening to most of us, not just me. In America unfortunately there are extensive 'fair use' laws that legalise most of it. There are moves to bring this in to the UK too (at the moment we have something called 'fair dealing' which is less extensive and more defined than the US 'fair use' exception, which is very vague).
    On the (significant) plus side, in the US the additional penalties for copyright breach can be much higher than in the UK, but only for registered images where statutory damages are available, particularly where the use was 'wilful'. So on the rare occasions when you can get damages in the US, they tend to be very much higher than the UK.
  53. Of course, even when you can get damages, they tend to be very small because the market for photography has been undermined and therefore imagery has a very low value, so it's usually not worth suing unless you are a content aggregator (ie. someone aggregating large volumes of other people's content on a pile 'em high and sell 'em cheap basis).
    There are rare occasions when the courts can get annoyed and award significant amounts of statutory damages (in the US, sadly this doesn't happen in the UK) in favour of the individual, such as the (most notable case) of Morel vs Getty/AFP. But that's very rare.
  54. "Is 'your' photograph in some cases (or all cases?) not entirely 'yours'?"​
    For a couple of weeks I've been pondering this part of Julie's original initiating post, particularly in light of some of my photos of family, friends and people I meet and photograph in public.
    And I'd have to say that those photos are not entirely "mine".
    Those photos were taken with the participation of the people depicted - either by consent or because they happened to be there and I photographed them. Many of those photos are records, not my creations. Beyond whatever minor bit of personal vision, perspective or skew I might impose merely because I happen to be holding the camera and mashing the buttons, the photos cannot be solely my own because I didn't stage the scene, gather the participants or arrange the elements.
    I may hold the copyright and enjoy certain benefits accrued to that peculiar concept. But those people contributed to the image and they have a certain stake in the results.
    At times when I browse my various boxes of family photos I'll encounter an oddly scissor-cropped print and realize that someone has been excised from the family history. Was it a fit of pique, or perhaps jealousy? Is that excised image now part of some bizarre montage in another reality? An ex-husband's head pasted onto a horse's rump? An ex-wife sacrificed and reduced to ashes in a nighttime garden exorcism? Who was this person and how did he or she fit into the family history scheme, subject to revision at whim? How many software-enhanced genealogy records will be filled with family gathering snapshots featuring a ragged square hacked out where an ex-someone-or-other used to be?
    So I'm not sure I have the right to destroy photos of people.
    However my infrared photos of mushrooms are mine-mine-mine-all-mine and I'll do with 'em as I please.
  55. Bunny trails aside... As I understand it (philosophy aside), whoever is holding the camera owns the photo. Period.
    Google about the monkey selfie and you'll find out that even if a Monkey is holding the camera, the camera owner does not own his photo.
    The original question was not about "for hire" (for which a person may legitimately surrender ownership of their photos as per contract).
    You can delete any photos you take that you own that you want. You legally own them if you shot them on your own and were not working for hire. I think that's true beyond the US...
  56. As some have said, if it is yours legally, you can destroy it.
    I believe, though, that there are some (rare) cases where it would be morally wrong.
    If you owned the Zapruder film of the JFK assassination, I think it would be wrong to destroy it.
    I suppose more generally, if you have evidence that would clear someone accused of a crime, and withholding it might convict an innocent person, you shouldn't destroy it. I am less sure, but probably also if you have the only evidence that would convict someone.
    I might also believe that some pictures might have appropriate artistic value that one shouldn't destroy them, though I am not sure I know of a good enough example. That is, that they morally (for some reason) belong to the public, even if they legally belong to you.
  57. The power to destroy a thing is the absolute control over it.​
    Paul Muad'dib
  58. If you are being offered some pay for the photographs, then you might consider taking it, or hold out or advertise for a later better offer.
    If it is a dispute about value, then the market may be settling it.
    If you feel you had an agreement to do work for one price, and having done it you are now offered a lower price, then I tend to agree that delivering that work and being cheated is less good for you and for society than forgoing any income from it - and if you can sell it to someone else at any time in the future for anything at all then your loss is ameliorated.
    The situation is unclear.
    I think that if you had an agreement that you would take pictures then some sort of contract to produce them on payment of a consideration might be inferred, in which case destroying them - or demanding an increased price - might look bad. But in the absence of a real contract with an agreed price, if you are short of storage there is no reason to retain them forever.
  59. In the UK the 'ownership' of an image is vested in the person who fired the shutter providing they were not working for hire and they did not sell/assign the Copyright to the image to another person/organisation etc.
    Given this, it is perfectly acceptable for any copyright owner to dispose of the image as they see fit. Moreover, if someone wanted to use an image to support something they did not agree with they are also perfectly entitled to decline supply of the image(s). Any agencies that I submit work to have this philosophy which is broadly understood and enforceable in law. I had once occasion to force a national publication to delete and stop using two of my images as I disagreed with their use which I had not agreed to. I did not even need to use a solicitor as they were aware that I was the copyright owner and they could not argue.
    My understanding is that the situation is a bit more complicated with wedding photography (someone can chip in here as I don't do weddings).
    Of course, if you have taken an image of your Granny/Mother/Wife etc. and someone in the family or a friend wants a copy then you still have a personal dilemma even if Copyright legislation is on your side!
  60. Has the case of same-sex wedding photography come up yet?
    There is a case in Seattle where a florist refused to do flowers for a same-sex wedding, and I believe lost when sued.

Share This Page