Imagine taking photographs every day and not sharing them on social media. Imagine not having a mobile phone with a camera to take those photographs. Imagine doing this for 18 years straight.
That’s just what Jamie Livingston, the man who took one polaroid a day every day for 18 years, did.
He took the first of these on March 31, 1979. It was of Mindy Goldstein, then his girlfriend. He continued taking pictures right until the day of his death, October 25, 1997 (which was, coincidentally, also his 41st birthday). The video above offers a view of his extraordinary project spanning 6,697 polaroids taken on his Polaroid SX-70 camera.
The pictures offer not only an intimate glimpse into his daily and work life – he was a filmmaker, editor, and performer for The Janus Circus – but also reflect the progression of time, the changing landscape of New York City, the diversity and change in culture, and the photographer’s own growth.
The photographs depict Livingston’s life turning a full circle. The year 1979 consisted mostly of polaroids of his friends, after which he expanded his subjects to include subjects like streets, buildings, his travels, mirrors, important events or even random objects. However, Livingston is seen coming back to his friends and family in the 1990s, even documenting his medical treatment in 1997.
The polaroids were collected after his death and put online by Livingston’s close friends Hugh Crawford and Betsy Reid, who also held an exhibition at Bard College, where the project originally started. Crawford told The Guardian that Livingston was so rigid about taking only one picture a day, that he refused to shoot when they found themselves among a herd of circus elephants in New York, saying, “No, I took a picture of my lunch, it’s already been taken.”
The website also has anecdotes from some of Livingston’s friends, recalling the moments the pictures were shot, like this one, where David Van Taylor comments, “... so in my mind, this photo documents the curse of the Thelonious Monk boxed set, which ended my friendship with Jamie forever.”