AN ARCHIVE SAVED: Mark Wallheiser

Just as Mark Wallheiser believes in the journalistic basics of the “who/what/when/where/why,” he is equally drawn to two other w’s — the win/win.

A photojournalist for 35 years, Wallheiser has carefully organized his collection of negatives, chromes, prints and digital files that includes 30 hurricanes and tropical storms, FSU football and other major sports, crime, industrial pollution and just about everything else that’s happened in the Florida panhandle and beyond. “I have a million images, at least,” said Wallheiser, a former Tallahassee Democrat staffer turned freelancer.

The impressive part of his story is that almost every assignment has caption information — those five w’s — attached to it. “Starting around the late 1980s, we got in the habit of putting negatives in envelopes and taped the (Tallahassee Democrat) assignment sheet to the outside of the envelope. After a few months, it only seemed natural to tear out the page of my reporter’s notebook with the w, w, w, w, w and include that too.” Once the newspaper’s drawer system filled up, the older images were migrated to 8×10 Kodak paper boxes and, after three years, the negatives and copyrights were transferred to the staffers. The same three-year policy later applied to digital files, and Wallheiser continued his captioning system when he went freelance in 2008.

The win/win part of Wallheiser’s plan involves the Florida Archives and a future Mark Wallheiser Collection — the public will have access to his unique perspective and his images will be cared for by professionals. While no formal estate plan is yet in effect, Wallheiser said his mission is to monetize what he can now through and “when I am dead and gone, my wife will give the rest to them.” (He donated his first two years of Florida negatives, 1981-1982, before realizing they had monetary value in stock image sales.)  

“I’ll license my work as long as possible, but I really can’t see my heirs going through the steps necessary to maintain and license in a diminishing market without the emotional attachment I have,” he said. “Donating my work to the Archives is giving it back to the people, really. They are the ones whose lives I made a career of documenting in the first place. That’s always been the plan.”

“Mark has donated several thousand images so far,” said Jody Norman, Archives Supervisor at the State Archives of Florida. Coincidentally, she is currently working on salvaging older Tallahassee Democrat files going back to 1952, starting with the most fragile frames and matching microfilm information with the photos when possible. “The (old) Democrat images have dates but no captions,” said Norman, who as a Tallahassee native recognizes many of the structures and events. “What Mark has done is that he has put the date and a pretty good description of the negatives together.” Because of his organization and notations, his images can eventually be segued easily from his climate-controlled storage area to their state-of-the-art facility, where they will be edited, scanned and saved for future generations.

Norman said her goal is to continue to grow the State Archives (and its online counterpart, Florida Memory), with a particular focus on the photographic collection, as it is the most-used component of records that include audio, video, statistical data and more. There is no funding to pay for donations, nor do images generate revenue for photographers, but Norman said the upside is the state archivists take better care of the work than most individuals and the work will get worldwide notice and appreciation (photographers can have access to their files, as can citizens, news outlets, documentary producers, educators, etc.) When reviewing new submissions, her team assesses the volume, condition, date range, content and format of originals. Visit for information.

[CREDIT: Photo of Mark Wallheiser ©2008 Glenn Beil. Wallheiser’s storage facility ©2013 Mark Wallheiser.]

Carla Hotvedt can be reached at or (352) 373-5771. Her writing focuses on Florida photojournalism and photo archiving topics. “An Archive Saved” is an ongoing series beginning in 2013.






SIadmin June 4, 2013 Blog Posts, Florida Photography