Man Takes a Polaroid Photo Every Day for 18 Years Until the Day He Dies

jamie livingston one polaroid photo every day photography new york

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.

jamie livingston one polaroid photo every day photography new york

June 15, 1979

jamie livingston one polaroid photo every day photography new york

January 28, 1983

May 27, 1980

May 27, 1980

His subjects included his friends…

jamie livingston one polaroid photo every day photography new york

March 31, 1979 (Livingston's first photo)

jamie livingston one polaroid photo every day photography new york

June 28, 1980

jamie livingston one polaroid photo every day photography new york

January 12, 1993

jamie livingston one polaroid photo every day photography new york

October 6, 1996

His job…

jamie livingston one polaroid photo every day photography new york

March 13, 1980

jamie livingston one polaroid photo every day photography new york

October 8, 1983

jamie livingston one polaroid photo every day photography new york

January 28, 1983

Life in New York City…

jamie livingston one polaroid photo every day photography new york

March 31, 1980

jamie livingston one polaroid photo every day photography new york

June 10, 1983

jamie livingston one polaroid photo every day photography new york

February 23, 1985

jamie livingston one polaroid photo every day photography new york

February 23, 1997

And his girlfriend.

jamie livingston one polaroid photo every day photography new york

April 25, 1997

jamie livingston one polaroid photo every day photography new york

May 23, 1997

jamie livingston one polaroid photo every day photography new york

April 22, 1997

In 1997, he was diagnosed with cancer.

jamie livingston one polaroid photo every day photography new york

February 12, 1997

jamie livingston one polaroid photo every day photography new york

May 1, 1997

jamie livingston one polaroid photo every day photography new york

May 3, 1997

jamie livingston one polaroid photo every day photography new york

June 2, 1997

jamie livingston one polaroid photo every day photography new york

June 24, 1997

jamie livingston one polaroid photo every day photography new york

July 29, 1997

jamie livingston one polaroid photo every day photography new york

August 20, 1997

jamie livingston one polaroid photo every day photography new york

September 29, 1997

As his health declined, he and his girlfriend decided to get married.

jamie livingston one polaroid photo every day photography new york

October 5, 1997

jamie livingston one polaroid photo every day photography new york

October 7, 1997

Tragically, he died just a couple weeks later, on his 41st birthday.

jamie livingston one polaroid photo every day photography new york

October 21, 1997

jamie livingston one polaroid photo every day photography new york

October 25, 1997 (Livingston's last photo)

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

All images via Jamie Livingston.

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