Concerned About Your Photographic Legacy? Look to APAG for Help


What to do with all the pictures? This is one of the thorniest questions facing an active image maker with a sizable, and probably still growing, collection of photographs and/or motion footage, plus other contributing materials that add context to a life behind the lens. In an ideal world, as pictures accumulate, a collection evolves into an archive; yet many photographers lack awareness of this concept until far too late in life. Another daunting hurdle to this process is the discipline for organizing a lifetime of visual output.

Anyone who finds this to be a familiar concern needs to know about the American Photography Archives Group (APAG), a professional organization for people handling private photo collections, photo-related archive professionals, and photographers actively earning income from fine art or editorial work who are working on their own archives.

Above photograph: Harlem Merchant, 1937 © Estate of Morris Engel

All other photographs © Grayson Dantzic, All Rights Reserved

Group photo of APAG members and attendees at the 2017 APAG seminar, ICP, NYC, 2017
Group photo of APAG members and attendees at the 2017 APAG seminar, ICP, NYC, 2017

Founded in 2000, APAG is the brainchild of Mary Engel, who assumed responsibility for the archive of her mother, noted photographer and filmmaker Ruth Orkin, when she died, in 1985. Just out of college at the time, Engel immersed herself in learning about intellectual property rights, conservation and preservation, promotion, and the world of photography galleries and dealers. After gaining a wealth of knowledge about handling her mother's estate, she subsequently inherited the archive of her father, award-winning filmmaker and photojournalist Morris Engel, when he died, in 2005.

As her experience with archival management grew, Engel became an informal consultant, sharing her wisdom with families of other photographers or estate holders who found themselves in similar situations. Before long, she decided that organizing a dinner with these newfound colleagues would save time and allow everyone to benefit from each other's experience. This core group included Grayson Dantzic, son of photographer Jerry Dantzic, and now APAG's executive vice president; Jean Bubley, niece of photojournalist Esther Bubley; and Annie (Rothstein) Segan, daughter of photographer and educator Arthur Rothstein.

"Basically, the reason for the group is to share information, because there's no magic handbook that tells you what to do when you inherit a photography estate," says Engel (who has since written just such a handbook). "And if you inherit a well-known photography estate, you inherit lots of photos, scrapbooks, letters, papers, it's endless. It's a big responsibility."

APAG members visit the Gordon Parks Foundation, in Pleasantville, NY, 2016. Other archives visited to date include the Richard Avedon Foundation, and the Museum of the City of New York, with additional trips planned for fall 2018.
APAG members visit the Gordon Parks Foundation, in Pleasantville, NY, 2016. Other archives visited to date include the Richard Avedon Foundation, and the Museum of the City of New York, with additional trips planned for fall 2018.

As word spread about Engel and the helpful resources she offered, the number of dinner guests grew, until it was clear that a larger, more focused meeting space was needed. After gathering for several years at the School of Visual Arts, in 2007 Engel arranged to hold meetings at the school of the International Center of Photography (ICP), where the group has gathered ever since for regular meetings, which usually include a lecture from an expert in the field. In 2011, APAG became a 501 (c) (3) non-profit corporation, allowing the organization to offer paid memberships and expand on its resources and member benefits.

Currently, APAG counts 82 individual photographers, 72 archives, 4 foundations and 35 different archivists, gallerists, institutions, and students among its active membership. Recent member events have included visits to view important New York-area archives, and a presentation by certified photo appraiser Jennifer Stoots, who provided key insights about the various types of photography appraisals and their differing approaches to value as part of APAG's latest member meeting.

Non-members are welcome to attend APAG's most ambitious outreach, a two-day educational seminar, which the organization has held regularly since 2014. Attendees converge from across the country to gain knowledge and inspiration from fifteen or more subject experts who touch on issues of archiving, curating, critical writing, collections and estate management, copyright and legal issues, library science, marketing and promotion, and more.

Alice Zimet leading breakout session at 2017 APAG seminar, ICP, NYC, 2017
Alice Zimet leading breakout session at 2017 APAG seminar, ICP, NYC, 2017

Some notable soundbites from APAG's third seminar, in spring 2017, included guidance from collector and educator Alice Sachs Zimet, who outlined the initial steps to thinking about a photographic archive as follows.

"Go inward and think strategically: What is my objective? Be honest. [Are you looking for] a quick fix? [Do you want to] monetize fast? Think you are sitting on a gold mine? Long term: Do you want to nurture a legacy? Think through a strategy: Where do you want the archive to go or be seen? What do you have? Can you explain it in print? Can you describe your brand? What and/or who are the right connections? What are you trying to do and how are you going to get there?"

Later, photo critic and historian A.D. Coleman classified archives by differentiating between a heap and a hole. After offering a quote from French writer and Picasso biographer Pierre Daix, stating, "In order to pursue any kind of scholarship you need everything," Coleman suggested, "Think long and hard before you throw anything away and ask for advice from people who know and work with archives."

In closing, he addressed the matter from a historical perspective, advising, "Don't muddy the waters between the work and the mulch heap that built up during a photographer's lifetime. Once the artist dies, the work belongs to the world. You do the work a disservice by censoring it."

Emily Bierman from Sothebys, Stephen Perloff from the Photo Review, and A.D. Coleman at 2017 APAG Seminar, ICP, NYC, 2017
Emily Bierman from Sothebys, Stephen Perloff from the Photo Review, and A.D. Coleman at 2017 APAG Seminar, ICP, NYC, 2017

In another panel, covering what institutions are looking for and how they build collections, Leslie Squyres, senior archivist at the Center for Creative Photography, reinforced the value of ancillary materials to a photographer's archive by identifying this list of items of potential interest, beyond the photographs themselves:

Correspondence: Letters to and from colleagues in the arts
Diaries and Journals: Showing a day-to-day view of ideas, activities, travels, sales, exhibitions and choices.
Writings: Published and unpublished
Biographical materials
Exhibition materials and scrapbooks
Teaching materials: Lecture notes and syllabi (but not teaching slides or grades)
Research files: Annotated books and notes
Publications by and about the artist
Financial records related to the work: Proof of sale, invoices, receipts, lists, and ledgers
Photographs, slides, contact prints and negatives of the artist, family and friends, of studio, darkroom, etc.

Finally, Robert Gurbo, curator of the Estate of André Kertész, had this to say during a panel on the Legacy of an Archive. "The best thing anyone can do is to organize it really well and know when to get out of the way. Don't present your overlay [on the material]; everyone has their own perspective," he added. "Learn the material, learn your role in it, and know when to step back."

As a supplement to the 2017 seminar, Engel published the 70-page Photo Archive Handbook, available for purchase from the APAG website. Featuring short articles on a range of topics from Copyright Law in Cyberspace to Best Practices in Managing Photography Archives, the handbook also includes lists of professional resources and museums throughout the United States.

Engel (far right) poses with other recipients of Griffin Museum Focus Awards, Griffin Museum of Photography, Winchester, MA, 2017
Engel (far right) poses with other recipients of Griffin Museum Focus Awards, Griffin Museum of Photography, Winchester, MA, 2017

In October 2017, Engel's passion for helping photographers and forging connections was aptly acknowledged when her work on behalf of APAG was recognized with a Spotlight Award by the Griffin Museum of Photography. Judith Thompson, APAG member and director of the Harold Feinstein Photography Trust, had this to say when presenting Engel with the award. "[Mary] has built an organization based on her experience, and she has invited others to contribute with their own discoveries, making APAG an evolving community of insight, knowledge and resources."

Upcoming APAG Events

Looking to the season ahead, APAG has carved out a significant presence in the upcoming photography calendar of both New York and San Francisco, where the organization launched a new West coast affiliate, in April 2018.

On Friday morning, September 14, APAG will lead off Photoshelter's Luminance talks at Brooklyn's Photoville festival, in a panel comprising Engel, photographer and philanthropist Susie Katz, and APAG Vice President Julie Grahame. Join them from 10:30 to 11:15 a.m., as they discuss the importance of archiving, the best techniques and platforms to use, and how to start thinking about the legacy you'll leave behind.

On October 14, 2018, APAG West will hold its first one-day symposium at the University of California, Berkeley School of Journalism, featuring a mix of panels, break-out sessions, case studies, and general discussion.

APAG has participated with a table at the AIPAD Photography Show since 2017. Pictured here, APAG officers from left to right: Julie Grahame, Grayson Dantzic, Mary Engel, AIPAD, NYC, 2017
APAG has participated with a table at the AIPAD Photography Show since 2017. Pictured here, APAG officers from left to right: Julie Grahame, Grayson Dantzic, Mary Engel; AIPAD, NYC, 2017

Finally, to wrap up an eventful year, APAG's fourth two-day seminar will be held over the weekend of December 8 - 9, 2018, at the School of the International Center for Photography on Sixth Avenue and 43rd Street. Watch the APAG website for details about how to register.

Do you have stories to share about your photographic legacy? Please chime in with a comment below!


This site is everything that I've looked for! My time as a Producer / Director at Cable TV of Jersey City (CITY3) allowed me to accumulate many hours of Public Affairs, documentary, and sporting event programming that was donated to a local library and eventually lost because of no procedure for archiving video and photography was in place back in 1990. No one in charge really knew what to do. A group like yours was really needed at that time.

Thanks for writing in Dennis, and so sorry to hear about all that programming being lost! You might also want to make note of the mention of Henry Wilhelm and the Image Permanence Institute in one of the comments below. These would be helpful resources to turn to if you ever find yourself facing a similar situation. Thanks for again for your interest and for reading the Explora blog!

With my mother being an amateur photographer, and my uncle as a military photographer (I believe), I was given a 35mm Pentax on my 14th birthday, and since then, I've amassed over 250,000 B&W and color negatives, prints, and slides. Getting my start as a student of SVA, and building my own darkroom at home, my primary work was street photography on the streets of Jersey City, New Jersey, and Manhattan. Eventually moving up to sports, fashion, and architecture assignments resulting in tons of paperwork. The best bit of organizing I've done, to date, is to scan all of my negatives to CD and pack the negatives in plastic sleeves and loose-leaf bound. I'm 64 years old and have somewhat of a plan for my work, but it is not the archiving preferred. My retired time is now ready for the next step to secure my legacy. I just need to know what to do next. Thanks.

Hi Dennis, congratulations on your retirement! It sounds like you are already off to a good start with organizing your archive. I hope you'll find the resources provided in the APAG Handbook, as well as the other references mentioned in comments here, to be helpful in clarifying your next steps. Keep up the good work and thanks for reading Explora! 

This is so interesting glad I have found you. I am looking forward to reading more of your information seeing your website and checking out the book. I am from a 6th generation photography family who is sitting on a family photo collection of over 10,000 photos before 1900 and easily more than double that to 1950. I have early photos of towns that no longer exist and the very beginning of several others with just a few town building on a single street. It will be very interesting to check on copyrights and my other options. I have so many early negatives including dry glass negatives and have been digitizing them for the last 20 years. I am so lucky my 3rd great grandmother was such an amazing photographer who developed all of her own work and passed that knowledge down to the rest of my great grandmothers and my grandfather. I am so glad this subject was the heading of an email from my favorite company BHphotovideo has always been so much help with all my photography needs for digitizing all of this and now they show me APAG, thanks guys. APAG I am headed to your website right now!

Thanks so much for writing in Richard, it sounds like you have an incredible image collection, and it's great to hear that B&H has been so helpful with your photography needs! Thanks for the shout out as one of your favorite companies, as well as for your interest in reading the Explora blog. I have no doubt you'll find APAG to be a helpful resource for your future image preservation and marketing efforts, and I hope to see some of these images online someday. 

I contributed to the Image Permanence Institute article titled Going, Going, Gone many years ago. A fairly large consortium of camera makers and film industry companies contributed to Henry Wilhelms article and institute. He spent decades researching how to archive images and published a number of articles on this exact topic. It seems convenient for some to think that their efforts to archive photographic collection, notes, diaries, and albums is the beginning step. APAG is only one of such groups founded virtually a couple of decades later. Mostly the APAG seems to feel that it’s members have pioneered in this archival effort when it in fact is a late entrant. On a geologic scale all of these archival efforts are very recent. Archival efforts in art work has been going on for centuries. Archival efforts in photography has been going on for awhile. For instance take a look at the JPEG. That was essentially an Archival Group of both camera and film and digital film makers which developed that standard. Many photographers today shoot in RAW. Henry Wilhelms Image Permanence Institute should be credited with much in the Archival Photographic World and Pursuit. 

Hi David: Thanks so much for bringing up Henry Wilhelm and the Image Permanence Institute, these are both excellent resources for best practices in archival storage and advancing standards in the preservation of photographic materials. While you are correct in noting that archival efforts in photography existed long before APAG was established, it seems to me that there is a big distinction to be made between Wilhelm's valuable work and APAG's primary purpose. As noted on the website, APAG’s mission extends to the following: “We offer support and discuss legal information about copyright and intellectual property. We deal with promotion and marketing, and how to work with galleries and auction houses, as well as websites and social media. We also assist with placement of archives at institutions." This story is meant to offer photographers information and resources about how to establish a photographic legacy and disseminating work with these goals in mind, rather than serving as a discussion of archival methods to support image permanence. Thanks again for identifying this additional reference, as well as for reading the Explora blog.

Thanks for this article Jill,

I had no idea such an organization existed and am so glad you wrote about it. This will now be on my "to do" list to learn more about preserving photographic art and history best practices. Thank you... 

Hi Dave: I'm very happy to have introduced you and other readers to APAG. Thanks for your interest in preserving photographic legacy, and also for reading the Explora blog!

Hello Jill,

good read. As the son of a somewhat-famous father I am also beginning to think about the subject of preserving and handling his archives, as this will inevitably arrive.

Is there a comparable organisation offering some assistance and guidance in Europe too?

Greetings Szabolcs, and thanks for your compliment on this story. I am not currently aware of any comparable organizations to APAG in Europe, but perhaps Mary Engel might know of something? You might also want to check with any photography resources within your country, to see if they might have or know of organizations that could help you. Good luck with your search and thanks for reading the Explora blog!

Hello Szabolcs,
in Hungary, the Magyar Fotográfiai Múzeum ( and the Magyar Fotográfiai Alapítvány can help. Not exactly the same way as APAG, but at least can do something for photographic legacy. It is for Hungarians, not for the EU photographers and families, it's true. But who knows, it can be a role model for an EU foundation.

Thanks so much for posting this resource for photographers in Hungary Zoltan. I'll share this information with APAG so they can include it in a future copy of their Handbook!