What to do with images of history

Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine at The Friday Night Jamboree (© 2007 Doug Thompson/Blue Ridge Photography LLC ).

While working through more than 1,500 images taken Friday night with my two cameras at the Virginia High School League’s Class 2 state basketball championship quarterfinal math in Riner, I had to stop and wonder how many image files I now have on multiple hard drives of my computer.

Fifty years ago, when I used a Nikon F film camera to capture school athletic contests and other news events, I might come home with two to three rolls of 36-exposure Kodak Tri-X black and white films.

Now two 32 gigabyte compact flash cards in my Canon EOS-1 DX, capture more than 36 exposures in one string of motor-driven shots.  I generally shoot basketball games with a 70-200mm Canon zoom lense on one camera and a 24-zoom on the other.  The rapid-fire sequences of the motor drives replace what once was good reaction times to capture images at precisely the right second.

When Amy and I moved to Floyd in 2004 after 23 years in the Washington, DC area, I planned to put my news and sports photography on a back burner and, perhaps, concentrate of images of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the music of our area.

Then Floyd Press editor Wanda Combs asked me to shoot a Floyd County High School Buffaloes football game, then other games, and I returned to news and sports photography.

Now, 15 years later, I have an archive of thousands of images and hundreds of hours of video on multiple hard drives that total more than 100 terabytes of data.

Besides the 1,500 plus images of Lady Buffaloes basketball Friday night, I added more than two hours of video Saturday night to the 70th episode of The Floyd Radio Show at the Country Store.  I’ve filmed nearly all of those 70 episodes over the last several years.  A motorcycle accident in 2012 caused me to miss three episodes.

At age 71, I have started to wonder what in the hell is going to happen to all those images and video after I’m gone.  Besides the digital data, I also have carousels of slides plus negatives stored at our home and in a storage room still rented in Northern Virginia.

The images include shots of most of the major rock and pop acts during 10 years of the Mississippi River Festival near St. Louis during my time as a reporter, photographer and columnist at The Telegraph in Alton, IL, a Southern Illinois city just up the river the Gateway City.

I also have negatives from time spent in Prince Edward County in Virginia as a child attending an all-white private school after the racist school board and supervisors closed the public schools to avoid a federal court order to integrate.

I have photos of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech in Washington, DC, taken while attending Floyd County High School in the 1960s.  I drove there in my 1957 Ford because I felt it might be a historic event.

My collection includes photos of NASA Space Shuttle launches at Cape Canaveral, shot while serving as a staff member of the Congressional Science and Technology Committee in the 1980s and other newsworthy events at the nation’s capital, including the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

Since returning to Floyd in 2004, I have photographed and filmed music at FloydFest, the Chantilly BBQ and Bluegrass Festival, the Galax Fiddler’s Convention, the Friday Night Jamboree, on the streets of Floyd and other venues like Oak Grove Pavilion, Oddfellas, Dogtown Pizza and more.

So what happens to all this when Amy and i are gone.  Does my sole surviving child want it?  Would The Floyd County Historical Society have a place for it?  Does Radford University has such archives?  Or perhaps Hollins?

Such decisions remain overdue.  I’m not getting any younger and I’m already feeling the ravages and limitations of advancing arthritis and mistreatment of a body that has suffered too many broken bones, injuries and missing organs.

For more than half a century, I’ve witnessed a lot of history and captured much of it.  I probably have a documentary of the musical heritage that defines this area that I might want to try to build out of the stored raw footage and, perhaps a book or two of images and essays, if I have enough time left.

I just don’t know.

1 thought on “What to do with images of history”

  1. Hi Doug, You can donate your materials to Special Collections at the VT Library and receive a tax deduction for the fair market value. They’d preserve and catalogue your collection for future generations. Probably put parts of it online too. That way we could all enjoy it!

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