In early 1979 Jamie Livingston was still a 22-year-old film student studying at Bard College in upstate New York, and he had just got his hands on a Polaroid camera. On March 31, 1979, he took a picture. And then, at first without even realizing it, he started to snap a single image every day. It was the beginning of an incredible photographic project that would endure for nearly two decades but which would end in tragedy.
Many years later, in 2008, friend and fellow student Hugh Crawford told The Guardian, “He’d been doing it for about a month before he realized he’d been taking about one picture a day, and then he made a commitment to keep doing that.”
That commitment was to result in an extraordinary collection of more than 6,000 images. The photographs spanned from that very first day in 1979 right up until October 25, 1997. The final photograph was taken on the day of Livingston’s 41st birthday. This photo is from New Year’s Day, 1983.
This amazing archive of photos show not only everyday moments from Livingston’s life, but also the changes that the city of New York underwent over the 18-year period. But photography wasn’t Livingston’s only talent. He also spent some time performing in the circus, and he was an accomplished film editor too.
In fact, it seems Livingston lived a very full life indeed. There’s an abundance of friends and good times in his pictures. And we also see evidence of his successful career as a successful film editor, featuring prestigious assignments for outfits like MTV.
As Livingston ages through his 20s and 30s, we see lots of evidence of a happy life lived to the full. Moreover, we are also given a window into the way the world was in New York City, where he lived at this time.
Livingston also traveled abroad. He took this beach picture on a trip to France in 1982. And as so often, he has found something quirky to get a shot of, showing his keen eye for what makes an arresting image.
Not all of Livingston’s pictures were of people or happenings, however. His artist’s eye often picked out unusual vistas, and he enjoyed making images of the random street scenes he stumbled across. Of course, he’d studied filmmaking at college, and so he would have been familiar with different styles of image-making.
Here we see a friend holding the model of camera that Livingston himself used for his daily images – the Polaroid SX-70. This folding camera achieved iconic status and was favored by everyone from Andy Warhol to Ansel Adams.
Livingston’s series of photos covered everything from the mundane to the bizarre. This picture shows one of his friends getting themselves into a pickle that many novice skiers will recognize all too well.
This shot, meanwhile, gives us a real insight into what it must have been like to live in New York City in the ’80s. It was a time when crime levels were high, and a journey on the graffiti-covered subway could be an intimidating experience.
Livingston clearly had a well-developed sense of humor, too. He often got friends to pose in strange tableau like this 1984 shot involving a giant human hamburger and a comic display of cannibalism.
Here’s one of the more mundane-looking shots that Livingston took in 1991. But even this shot has its fascination because of the retro equipment. A friend is using an Apple McIntosh Classic, a cutting-edge piece of technology at a time when you could have your computer in beige or beige.
Some of the photographs are downright enigmatic, however. For example, in this shot we see Livingston posing with a penguin. The significance of the bird remains a mystery. But note the bag on the table – Livingston was indeed an ardent New York Mets fan.
The photos take a sudden turn into a much darker world with this shot from May, 4 1997. The post-operation scar belongs to Livingston. He had just undergone an operation to combat cancer.
This shot is taken about a month after the Livingston snapped the scar on his scalp. It’s clear that his health is declining, but he is still committed to the daily photograph.
It’s now August 21, 1997, and Livingston is back in hospital. Things might be grim, but his irrepressible spirit hasn’t given up. Plus, he’s still retained his sense of humor as he clowns around with the flowers and his friends.
It’s October 5, 1997. Jamie has decided to propose to his girlfriend, and this is the ring. And like many of Livingston’s images, this simple photo has a powerful poignancy that transcends the seeming ordinariness of the object portrayed.
And this is the wedding photo, taken on October 7, 1997. It’s clear that Jamie’s new wife adores him. And even in the depths of serious illness, Jamie has an inner peace and happiness that is almost heartbreaking.
This photo was taken on October 25, 1997. It’s Saturday, and the day of Jamie’s 41st birthday. This is the last photo of the series. Later that day, Jamie passed away. But his friends swore to keep his memory alive with his extraordinary photographic archive, available at photooftheday.hughcrawford.com.