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One man's story, told through a Polaroid a day for eighteen years

The final Polaroid from Jamie Livingston's life
©Jamie Livingston/Courtesy

Before there were Instagram pictures you could snap with the smartphone you carry with you everywhere, there were Polaroids. Long before Flickr inspired thousands of content contributing shutterbugs to snap one photo a day for their 365 Days project, there were people like Jamie Livingston.

Livingston was in college when he began snapping Polaroid pictures. Upon realizing it was becoming a daily habit, he decided to purposely take one photo a day for the rest of his life. The project started in 1979 with a snapshot of a girlfriend. The last image was on his deathbed in 1997.

As a professional Film Maker and Editor, Livingston did have a keen eye for composition in his images. But the subjects are not particularly awe inspiring. Most are snapshots of his personal life: shots of his television screen, what he ate for lunch, friend's children, pets, vacation activities, holiday decorations, family. And friends. Lots and lots of friends. Viewed individually, one would not consider most of the Polaroids profound works of art. But as a collection, they have so much more meaning and interest.

In scrolling through the website's scanned, digitized, chronologically presented Polaroids, we read Livingston's story of adulthood. We can see the changing of President's, the changes in fashion, changes in lovers, the changes in a boy becoming a man--evolving from a wide-eyed immortal adventurer to a more pensive, mortal student of life. Ultimately, his story is our story--a story full of birth, celebration, joy, love, comfort, uncertainty, and death.

What's beautiful about Polaroids in general and Livingston's images is that they are finite and unapologetic. One Polaroid, one chance to capture a moment and for it to develop however it wants. That's it. There are no retakes, no editing. Livingston only did one picture a day. He did not seek the extraordinary, nor did he hide any mistakes, flaws, or unbecoming results in his photographs. He did not shoot with the intention of sharing his photos with others, so there was no mental filter of shooting to please or fascinate an audience. (The curated collection of images was coordinated and shared by a close friend after his passing.) Even on his deathbed, due to cancer, Livingston got one last Polaroid of a day in his life.

Livingston lived in an era that required deeper dedication to his project, carrying his Polaroid SX-70 camera with him at most times to log his daily happenings and interests. Most of us now live with the modern privelage of having a quick and accessible camera on us at all times, generally our smart phones. The massive popularity of sites and photo feeds like TwitPic, Flickr, Instagram, Hipstamic, and Facebook, confirm we find the world at large as well as our lives fascinating enough to document endlessly. In the 21st Century, the data and images we leave behind will be our legacy. Livingston's story is one filled with friends, creativity, small adventures, and the larger world around him. If someone were to read all of your snapshots from an outsider's point of view, what story do your pictures tell? What legacy will you leave behind?

To see the full set of Jamie Livingston's eighteen years of Polaroids, visit:


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