From the UK Guardian:
In 1979, a young New York film student called Jamie Livingston decided to take one Polaroid image every day of his life. The resulting album is archived on a fascinating and deeply moving website. Johnny Dee introduces the images:
I was idly flicking through blogs when I stumbled upon an intriguing website. It was a collection of polaroid photographs and gradually I began to realise that there was one for every day between March 1979 and October 1997. There was no way of telling who they belonged to, no commentary or captions, just the photos, arranged month by month like contact sheets. There was a sense, too, that I was not supposed to be there, browsing through these snaps of friends and family, of baseball games and picnics, but they were funny and moving. There were pictures of things that didn’t exist any more – the World Trade Centre, graffiti and Day-glo disco pants – as well as mountains, beaches, car parks and swimming pools.
Slowly it became apparent whose collection it was – friends would come and go but one man regularly popped up over the 18 years documented by the pictures, doing ordinary stuff like eating dinner or unusual things in faraway countries. In one picture he’s proudly holding a skinned goat, in another he’s on stilts. A lot of the time he looks serious while doing ridiculous things. During the 80s there are lots of pictures of him playing music with an avant-garde street performance outfit called Janus Circus. There are pictures of TV screens – ball games, Frank Zappa’s death, presidents Carter, Reagan and Clinton.
Then, in 1997, events take a dark turn. There are pictures of the photographer in hospital, then with a long scar across his head. It’s obvious he is gravely ill. For a short while his health appears to improve and he returns home. In October there is a picture of a ring, then two days later a wedding ceremony. But just a few weeks after that he’s back in hospital with some of the friends from the early photos around his bedside. On October 25 the series ends. The photographer has died.
Of course I wasn’t alone in discovering this remarkable site. Since the end of May it has been passed from blog to blog across America. “The first I knew about it was when all my other websites started closing down under the strain,” says New Yorker Hugh Crawford, who was responsible for putting his friend’s pictures online after his death. “Initially it wasn’t meant to be looked at by anyone. A group of us were putting on an exhibition of the photos and the site was a place where we could look at the pictures while we talked on the phone.”
The photographer’s name was Jamie Livingston. He was a filmmaker and editor who worked on public information films, adverts and promo videos for MTV. Taking a single photo every day began by accident when he was 22 and studying film with Crawford at Bard College, in upstate New York. “He’d been doing it for about a month before he realised he’d been taking about one picture a day, and then he made a commitment to keep doing that,” says Crawford. “That’s what he was like. There are some people who have flashes of brilliance and do things in a huge rush or creative bursts but he was more of a steady, keeps-at-it kind of guy and he did amazing stuff. Part of the appeal of the site is that Jamie wasn’t this amazing-looking guy. He led an incredible life, but there’s an everyman quality to the photographs.”
There are a lot of visual jokes, fuzzy shots and fluffed self-portraits, but the plan was to take one picture and keep it no matter how it turned out. Once they found themselves walking with circus elephants through the heart of New York, late at night. Crawford turned to his friend and suggested this could be the picture of the day. “He was like, ‘No, I took a picture of my lunch, it’s already been taken,'” laughs Crawford.
Over the years it occurred to Livingston that he would have to continue with his pictures either for the rest of his life or until they stopped making Polaroid film (which eventually came to pass in February this year). The collection itself features in a number of the photographs and in the late 80s was nearly lost entirely when he was evicted from his apartment and the refuse collectors mistakenly took all his belongings – he got them back but had to sort through the whole truck to find them.
For first-time visitors to the website, Livingston’s death, from a brain tumour on his 41st birthday, comes as a dramatic shock, but clues of his poor health lurk within all those thousands of shots and several pictures of a malignant mole in 1989. His friends have long regarded the collection – which went on display at his old college on what would have been his 50th birthday – as his legacy and a reminder of thousands of tiny details that would otherwise have gone forgotten.
Only one mystery remains about Livingston’s life: “There’s one woman who appears a lot [in the earlier photographs] who seems to have been a girlfriend but no one knows who she is,” says Crawford, much of whose own life story is told within the pictures as well. The more famous the pictures become, the more likely it is that one day he’ll find out.