What kind of legacy do you want to leave in your photography after you pass?
1. One memorable photograph
For some of us, we want to leave at least 1 memorable photograph. Just how Cartier-Bresson has his jumping man shot, or how Nick Ut has his ‘napalm girl’ photograph.
Honestly, if we can even make 1 memorable photo before we die, we’ve done our job as photographers.
Even the best artists in history are only known for one art piece (think Andy Warhol and his Tomato Soup cans), or Leonardo Da Vinci and the Mona Lisa.
For me, if I am remembered for one photograph, I hope it to be my ‘laughing lady’ photograph from NYC. To me, it brings me joy, happiness, and optimism — what I wish to see in the world.
We don’t have control whether we will make a memorable photo before we die or not. But it shouldn’t prevent us from hustling hard, shooting each day as if it were our last, and focusing on gradual growth in our photography.
2. Empowering other photographers
Many of us take on the role of a photography teacher. We wish to share our knowledge in photography with others.
The reason I keep everything on this blog open source is to hopefully empower other photographers. And if I am remembered for one concept before I die, it is the ‘open source photography‘ concept. The idea that you can empower other human beings with information (about photography), and by giving away everything for free, to have everything accessible.
I think human beings thrive on shared information. And humankind depends on useful information. The more pay walls we put up, the more we prevent others from becoming empowered.
So you can empower other photographers by sharing your tips, insights, and knowledge. Share your contact sheets. Teach photography at a local school, or even teach your parents how to take photos.
And remember, empowering other photographers isn’t just teaching them photography. It is teaching them how to find more personal meaning in life through photos.
3. Documenting history
The last thing that comes to mind is to create some sort of historical record behind. My friend Neil Ta is documenting ‘Alexandria Park’ in Toronto, and trying to create a meaningful document of a neighborhood which will soon be demolished (for more high-rise condos, unfortunately).
I’ve learned a lot of history, and personal history from Cindy Nguyen — my partner. You can document the history of the environment around you (your neighborhood or city), or you can document your own personal history.
I am documenting the life of me and Cindy through ‘the Cindy Project‘ — which I hope to use to immortalize our love for one another. And hopefully to create a personal historical document to give our future children, which they can give their future kids.
So for you– photograph your own home, your kids, friends, family, neighborhood, local community, group, or anything. History isn’t just for historians. It is for photographers from all walks of life.
Don’t limit yourself. Define history for yourself however you see fit.
We cannot control whether we will leave a positive or negative legacy in our photography. But remember– you are making photos not only for yourself, but for posterity– and the future generations that will come after us.
It is a bit greedy to go ‘legacy hunting.’ My suggestion: live a life true to yourself as a photographer, be authentic, and be you. Don’t have any anxiety whether your photos will be documented in the annals of history.
Follow your heart, and shoot with your heart. Photograph those who you love, and treat each day as if it will be your last. Because one day, it will.
Learn more: Personal Photography >