The Boston Globe‘s Alex Beam delves into the Polaroid sale question and reveals some interesting details on how the collection came to be up for sale. At issue is the somewhat unconventional nature of the collection where many of the works were not given to the corporation entirely. That means many photographers–assuming the corporation would never sell the works–only gave rights to the image, not ownership of the actual photograph:
The original Polaroid company went bankrupt in 2002. A group of Minnesota-based investors bought its assets, including the photo collection. Then they declared bankruptcy. This summer their creditors asked a judge if they could sell the photos, and the judge approved. He ruled, and Sotheby’s asserts, that the creditors have “free and clear’’ ownership of the collection.
If the photographers wanted to claim their work, he said, they should have acted in 2002, during the first bankruptcy proceedings. “That is when the contractual rights may have been voided,’’ says photography critic Allan Coleman, who has been bird-dogging the fate of the collection on his blog PhotoCritic International.
Rough justice, to be sure. The facts behind the case are devilishly complex. Polaroid signed many different agreements with many different photographers. For instance, Ansel Adams and Land experimented with film starting in the 1940s, and Adams gave his work outright to the company. On the other hand, many photographers signed an agreement which stipulated that “Collection images are exclusively used for exhibition and editorial (non-commercial) purposes with Polaroid retaining all rights.’’
At various times during Polaroid’s roiled recent history, staffers approached Harvard’s Fogg Museum and the Whitney Museum in New York, seeking a home for the photos. One roadblock was money. It costs an estimated $200,000 a year just to warehouse the photos in Somerville. And stiffed creditors couldn’t be expected to overlook the multimillion-dollar value of the collection.
Through the Lens of Time (Boston Globe)