A Polaroid Every Day Until His Death

March 29, 2011

I am a believer in the idea of collections. (This weblog is a collection – our quarterly review is a collection). I believe that collections yoke you to the world, because they turn the passive: active. Collections give you a filter to peer through at the world, with. I was taught this lesson from a wise, old Denver painter named Ernest Porps. I think he’s still alive. He taught me many things that changed the course of my life.

To this end, I stumbled across a fascinating collection of Polaroids, turned harrowing:

This project was called, “Photo of the Day” and it appears that the photgrapher, Jamie Livingston, took photos every day of his life, for eighteen years. It appears that he planned to put the photos together into a collection — if he had lived. He died on October 25, 1997 — on his 41st birthday.

Here are some of those photos with captions from Chris Higgins at MentalFloss.com – the journalist that uncovered this wonderful collection of photographs and put together the complete story:

Here is the photographer. He was a filmmaker. He also created music for film:

He shot, and catalogued, things he loved. Historical moments, like the day that Zappa died:

His friends collected the photos after his death, and put them on display. Where they lost photos or couldn’t find them initially, they did this:

Throughout early 1997, we start to see the photographer himself more and more often. Sometimes his face is obscured behind objects. Other times he’s passed out on the couch. When he’s shown with people, he isn’t smiling. On May 2 1997, something bad has happened:

By May 4, 1997, it’s clear that he has cancer:

His health rapidly declining, the photographer takes a mirror-self-portrait on June 2, 1997:

His health continues to decline through July, August, and September 1997, with several trips to the hospital and apparent chemotherapy. On October 5, 1997, it’s pretty clear what this picture means:

Two days later we see the wedding:

And just a few weeks later he’s back in the hospital. On October 24, 1997, we see a friend playing music in the hospital room:

The next day the photographer dies:

Wherever you find guideposts of your life, I believe in showing gratitude: Thank you Jamie Livingston. Thank you Chris Higgins, for bringing Jamie’s work, and story, to light.

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