PHOTO OF THE DAY
Jamie Livingston took a Polaroid photograph of himself every day of his life for 18 years, between 1979 and 1997, with a Polaroid SX-70 camera. He entitled the project “Photo Of The Day”.
Were this to be set of isolated images it would be hard to tell much about a person. As it goes there are a lot of days in 18 years. That means a hell of a lot of Polaroids and no matter how he is feeling or what he shoots on any given day, as a cumulative body of work, the photos give a unique window into a single individuals life.
It is a strange feeling to discover simple things about a man you will never meet. Like which American Football team he supports. And that he seems to be a filmmaker. And that he likes ice cream.
The series becomes particularly moving as Livingston chronicles his own declining health as he contracts and fights brain cancer. Throughout he maintains a sense of humour, goofing around for shots with wigs and showing off his shaved noggin for his trusty SX 70.
On the 25th of October 1997, on the day of his 41st birthday, Livingston dies in hospital. This too is logged.
The project has been lovingly archived by his friends Betsy Reid and Hugh Crawford and can be accessed in its entirety online. The Polaroids were exhibited last year at Bard College where Livingston studied and began the project. This is the first time that the shots have been published. We spoke to Hugh about his friends legacy.
VICE: What do you think initially motivated Jamie to take a photograph every day of his life for eighteen years?
Hugh Crawford: I think it started out pretty casually, and then he kind of became increasingly committed as the project progressed. I don’t think that he really became aware of the scope or the sense of it being this epic project until about 4 or 5 years in.
Does it not feel kind of weird laying friend's life bare for anyone who cares to pop online to see?
No, I think Jamie operated in the tradition of Stan Brackage and others who made art from their life, and in turn life their art. I’d like to think it is what he would have wanted. What is unusual about Jamie’s work is that its narrative encompassed pretty much his entire adult life. Only one picture a day, only one lifetime to do it in. That's true of everybody of course, but not as consciously as this.
Can a whole life can really be represented by a single glimpse a day?
Having known Jamie I’d say that if you take even a small sample of the 6600 or so shots, it becomes stunningly accurate portrayal. It’s scary.
You exhibited the work last year in the college where Jamie started the project. Was an exhibition Jamie's ultimate intention?
I think so. He would annually display all the photos to date up until the twelfth year or so when on this basketball court. We’d all help out, it would take four days to lay out and cover the entire court.
Where do you think Jamie fits in terms of the direction that photography has taken since he started the project?
You have to remember that when Jamie started the project it was during the late 70’s and early 80’s in downtown Manhattan. We were all soaking in the Mekas brother’s film making, Warren Sonbert was a frequent dinner guest which you can see in the photos as was Adolfas Mekas. Jamie's upstairs neighbour in the loft was Cindy Sherman, so there was a lot of that autobiographical art making in the air. The work that Jamie was producing in stills and other film makers were creating in music videos and advertising spread that sensibility to a broader public and was a precursor to a lot of what we see on the Internet today. Jamie wasn't keeping any secrets. All of the overlapping relationships were there to see, much like some of the more live your life in public blogs of today, or the original jennycams. I that think that Jamie was sort of ahead of his time and by keeping his work in the public realm people can see that.