Photographers may have to wait two years for the return of images held in the archive of legendary French picture agency Sygma, which went into liquidation last year.

Image held in Sygma archive

Picture credit: Mark Wagner

Photographers may have to wait two years for the return of images held in the archive of legendary French picture agency Sygma, which went into liquidation last year.

Uncertainty continues to shroud the fate of up to 12 million images amid fears that the photos faced destruction if the photographers who took them could not be traced.

Corbis, which is owned by Bill Gates, paid around $20 million dollars for Sygma in 1999.

Last year, Corbis-Sygma filed for bankruptcy after being hit by massive debts.

Among the freelance photographers left in the dark about his images is UK-based Mark Wagner.

Wagner, an award-winning aviation photographer, submitted around 20 transparencies to Sygma more than ten years ago.

His images document the explosion of a passenger plane, which the photographer had captured for the Civil Aviation Authority in an experiment designed to show the effects of a Lockerbie-style bomb blast (see above).

?My worry is that they will become orphan pictures,? said Wagner, a manager at London-based stock photo agency Aviation-Images.com.

Though the Paris-based liquidator insists that pictures held in the Sygma archive will not be destroyed, it remains unclear what will happen to those taken by photographers who cannot be contacted.

?During the [liquidation] process they won?t be destroyed. Don?t worry about that,? a spokeswoman for the liquidator, Mandataire Judiciare Associé, told Amateur Photographer (AP) today.

But she added: ?You won?t be able to take your pictures back for the moment.?

She said they will instead remain in an archive facility until the end of the liquidation process which is expected to take between ?one and two years?.

However, the lawyer overseeing the liquidation heightened photographers? fears when he said that the liquidator was not able to return photographs.

In an email seen by AP, lawyer Stéphane Gorrias told Sygma contributors that ?the rights of photographers has expired?.

Gorrias added: ‘We are unable to make restitution of pictures.’

Speaking today, a spokeswoman for the liquidator advised Sygma photographers to first contact Corbis to find out if the agency plans to renew their contract.

?Normally, they [Corbis] are required to give you back your pictures because you are at the end of your contract.?

She added: ?For the moment there is no agreement with Corbis for return of the pictures.?

Last month Corbis spokesman Dan Perlet stressed that the photographers legally own the rights to pictures held in the Sygma archive.

He said that 75% of Sygma’s 50 million photos are held at a preservation facility near Paris but that Corbis has not been able to sign up the photographers who captured the remainder, saying that ‘some declined or couldn’t be found’.

Perlet added: ‘25% remain in Sygma’s Access and Preservation Facility at this time, and the liquidator is working to contact all photographers to have them reclaim [the images] by sending, where possible, correspondence to these photographers.

‘The liquidator, to our knowledge, has not detailed what will happen to the images if the photographers who took them can’t be found, but he has not indicated any intention to destroy them, and suggestions that they will be destroyed are purely speculation and rumour.’

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