At first glance, the bright and colorful Know Your Lemons poster may not appear to be dealing with an issue of life or death. A closer look, however, reveals the severity of the situation at hand. Created by the Worldwide Breast Cancer organization, the clever image uses manipulated photos of lemons to illustrate the tell-tale physical signs of breast cancer.
On March 31, 1979, native New Yorker and creative college student Jamie Livingston began a highly personal and particularly peculiar project: he would take one Polaroid photo every day—a mission he maintained until his tragic and untimely death 18 years later.
After obtaining a Polaroid SX-70 camera as a senior in college, Livingston was seldom seen without it. Beginning with a candid shot of his then-girlfriend and concluding with a heartbreaking peek into his deathbed, the series chronicles Livingston’s remarkably enthralling life as a twenty- and thirty-something living in New York City.
His subject matter spans people (namely, his friends, family, and romantic partners), life in the Big Apple, and his work as a filmmaker and photographer (though, as a true creative, he also dabbled in the circus arts). While, with his artistic eye and outgoing approach to his craft, Livingston found inspiration in a myriad of muses on a daily basis, he stuck to his strict limit of one photo per day, giving us a unique glimpse into his daily life and producing a collection that is as beautiful and fascinating as it is raw and down-to-earth.
In addition to capturing the ins-and-outs of his social life and the hustle and bustle of Manhattan’s metamorphosis, the series poignantly documents Livingston’s battle with cancer. In 1997, his health appears to decline; he is often photographed reposing in his apartment with his girlfriend, in a constant state of fatigue. Suddenly, snapshots from within a hospital bed emerge, and it becomes clear that he has undergone serious brain surgery. The remaining photos appear to revolve around his declining health, with the exception of two particularly precious photographs: one of an engagement ring still in its box, and another of him and his girlfriend on their wedding day shortly after. The happy occasion is quickly tinged with sadness, however, as Livingston is photographed on his deathbed a mere 2-and-a-half weeks later. The 6,000-shot series ends there.
As Livingston neared the end of his short life, his friends Hugh Crawford and Betsy Reid lovingly promised him that his treasured project would live on. After digitally photographing the thousands of Polaroids, Crawford and Reid showcased the entirety of Livingston’s collection in a dedicated exhibition at Bard College, Livingston’s alma mater. Crawford also published the pictures online, where they continue to captivate new generations of audiences and share Livingston’s legacy one Polaroid at a time. “They often don’t mean anything by themselves,” Crawford told The New York Times. “But when you put them all together, they take on a life of their own.”
In 1979, Jamie Livingston began taking one Polaroid photo every day.
His subjects included his friends…
Life in New York City…
And his girlfriend.
In 1997, he was diagnosed with cancer.
As his health declined, he and his girlfriend decided to get married.
Tragically, he died just a couple weeks later, on his 41st birthday.
Though Livingston has passed away, he’s left behind an inspiring body of work.
The photographer’s passion project now serves as a pre-Instagram documentation of a man’s life. It’s even connecting people by allowing others to share stories about their own lives on any given date within the 18-year span that he was actively capturing Polaroids. Some include: “I never met Jamie but this was taken on my birthday and it means a lot to me.”
Jamie Livingston: Website