He Took a Polaroid Every Day, Until the Day He Died

I came across a slightly mysterious website -- a collection of Polaroids, one per day, from March 31, 1979 through October 25, 1997. There's no author listed, no contact info, and no other indication as to where these came from. So, naturally, I started looking through the photos. I was stunned by what I found.

In 1979 the photos start casually, with pictures of friends, picnics, dinners, and so on. Here's an example from April 23, 1979 (I believe the photographer of the series is the man in the left foreground in this picture):

By 1980, we start to figure out that the photographer is a filmmaker. He gets a letter from the American Film Festival and takes a photo on January 30, 1980:

January 30, 1980

Some days he doesn't photograph anything interesting, so instead takes a photo of the date. Update: this was an incorrect guess; see the bottom of this post for more info on these date-only pictures.

August 23, 1982

Throughout the 1980s we see more family/fun photos, but also some glimpses of the photographer's filmmaking and music. Here's someone recording audio in a film editing studio from February 5, 1983:

February 5, 1983

The photographer is a big Mets fan. Here's a shot of him and a friend with Mets tickets on April 29, 1986:

April 29, 1986

In the late 1980s we start seeing more evidence that the photographer is also a musician. He plays the accordion, and has friends who play various stringed instruments. What kind of music are they playing? Here's a photo from July 2, 1989 of the photographer with his instrument:

July 2, 1989

In 1991, we see visual evidence of the photographs so far. The photographer has been collecting them in Polaroid boxes inside suitcases, as seen in this photo from March 30, 1991:

March 30, 1991

On December 6, 1993, he marks Frank Zappa's death with this photo:

December 6, 1993

The 1990s seem to be a good time for the photographer. We see him spending more time with friends, and less time photographing street subjects (of which there are many -- I just didn't include them above). Perhaps one of his films made it to IFC, the Independent Film Channel, as seen in this photo from December 18, 1996:

December 18, 1996

Throughout early 1997, we start to see the photographer himself more and more often. Sometimes his face is obscured behind objects. Other times he's passed out on the couch. When he's shown with people, he isn't smiling. On May 2 1997, something bad has happened:

May 2, 1997

By May 4, 1997, it's clear that he has cancer:

May 4, 1997

His health rapidly declining, the photographer takes a mirror-self-portrait on June 2, 1997:

June 2, 1997

By the end of that month, he's completely bald:

June 30, 1997

His health continues to decline through July, August, and September 1997, with several trips to the hospital and apparent chemotherapy. On the bright side, on September 11, 1997, the photographer's hair starts to grow back:

September 11, 1997

On October 5, 1997, it's pretty clear what this picture means:

October 5, 1997

Two days later we see the wedding:

October 7, 1997

And just a few weeks later he's back in the hospital. On October 24, 1997, we see a friend playing music in the hospital room:

October 24, 1997

The next day the photographer dies.

What started for me as an amusing collection of photos -- who takes photos every day for eighteen years? -- ended with a shock. Who was this man? How did his photos end up on the web? I went on a two-day hunt, examined the source code of the website, and tried various Google tricks.

Finally my investigation turned up the photographer as Jamie Livingston, and he did indeed take a photo every day for eighteen years, until the day he died, using a Polaroid SX-70 camera. He called the project "Photo of the Day" and presumably planned to collect them at some point -- had he lived. He died on October 25, 1997 -- his 41st birthday.

After Livingston's death, his friends Hugh Crawford and Betsy Reid put together a public exhibit and website using the photos and called it PHOTO OF THE DAY: 1979-1997, 6,697 Polaroids, dated in sequence. The physical exhibit opened in 2007 at the Bertelsmann Campus Center at Bard College (where Livingston started the series, as a student, way back when). The exhibit included rephotographs of every Polaroid and took up a 7 x 120 foot space.

You can read more about the project at this blog (apparently written by Crawford?). Or just look at the website. It's a stunning account of a man's life and death. All photos above are from the website.

Update: I've made contact with Hugh Crawford and his wife Louise. Apparently the pictures that are just dates aren't Polaroids -- they're placeholders for days when there was no photo, or the photo was lost.

Update 2: After hitting the Digg homepage, the original site has been taken down by the host. Hopefully it'll be back up overnight; in the meantime if anyone has a mirror of the original site, please leave a link in the comments (you have to leave off the http part).

Update 3: The original website is back up! Hugh has managed to restore service, and it looks like the site is now cached across multiple servers. It's still a little slow due to the huge amount of traffic, but at least it works. Go check it out.

Update 4: Jamie Livingston has been added to Wikipedia.

Update 5: Many people have asked about the Polaroid SX-70 camera. Check out this Eames film explaining the camera.

Update 6: The Impossible Project has begun producing Polaroid-compatible film.

Update 7: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's new book The Blogger Abides.

Follow Chris Higgins on Twitter for more stories like this one.

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Tour the National Museum of Scotland From Home With Google Street View
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Google's Street View technology can be used to view some amazing art, whether it's behind the walls of the Palace of Versailles in France or the Guggenheim Museum in New York. As the BBC reports, the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh is the latest institution to receive the virtual treatment.

The museum contains items tracing the history of the world and humanity. In the Natural World galleries, visitors will find a hulking Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton and a panorama of wildlife. In the World Cultures galleries, there are centuries' worth of art and innovation to see. The museum's permanent galleries and the 20,000 objects on display can all be viewed from home thanks to the new online experience.

Users can navigate the virtual museum as they would a regular location on Street View. Just click the area you wish to explore and drag your cursor for full 365-degree views. If there's a particular piece that catches your interest, you may be able to learn more about it from Google Arts & Culture. The site has added 1000 items from the National Museum of Scotland to its database, complete with high-resolution photos and detailed descriptions.

The Street View tour is a convenient option for art lovers outside the UK, but the museum is also worth visiting in person: Like its virtual counterpart, admission to the institution is free.

[h/t BBC]

DiC Entertainment
11 Fun Facts About Heathcliff
DiC Entertainment
DiC Entertainment

In 1973, newspapers around the country saw the debut of artist George Gately's Heathcliff, a single-panel comic strip about a mischievous orange tabby who menaces dogs and haunts local fish markets. (And yes, he was named after the character in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.) For nearly half a century, the character has been seen in print, on television, and has spawned a slew of merchandise. Check out some facts about the comics page’s pick of the litter.


You might assume the enormous success of Garfield, Jim Davis’s long-running strip about a lazy and sardonic orange cat, led to derivative works about sleepy felines. Could be, but Heathcliff isn’t one of them. George Gately’s strip began running in 1973, five years before Davis’s Garfield hit papers.


Though he quickly appeared in 200 papers, Heathcliff’s future was by no means guaranteed early on, and in 1974, the Los Angeles Times decided to drop the strip. More than 900 readers wrote letters of complaint in response, prompting the Times to reinstate the strip just a few weeks later.


With Heathcliff’s popularity came opportunity for merchandising, animation, and other ancillary ventures. One of the strangest may have been the repeated invitations for Gately to attend cat conventions, where cat owners requested his autograph be addressed to their pet. This sometimes led to questionable solicitations, like when one woman asked for his signature for her cat, Hitler. According to John Gallagher, Gately’s brother, Gately wound up writing “Good luck, Hitler” for the fan.


Like Garfield, Heathcliff doesn’t speak in print. But when the character made the move to animation, being a silent hero was off the table. The first Heathcliff series premiered in 1980 and featured the voice of cartoon legend Mel Blanc as the title character. In the second season, he teamed with fellow comic strip star Marmaduke. Another series followed in 1984, as well as an animated feature in 1986.


The crown jewel of comic strips in animation is the holiday special, with A Charlie Brown Christmas being the gold standard. Done right, the projects can run almost in perpetuity. In the 1980s, Heathcliff very nearly joined the pantheon with a Halloween special that was planned for ABC following an animated adaptation of the vampire-bunny book Bunnicula. During the outline stage, ABC screened the finished Bunnicula special and decided the animation was too rough for primetime. Since Ruby-Spears was handling production for both, Heathcliff got sidelined.


Comic strip artists are constantly under deadline pressure, which is a big reason why you don’t often see elaborate backgrounds. But Gately had a different reason for keeping Heathcliff’s home simple. “I'm very careful to never make the home in my cartoon look too fancy,” he said. “I'm as interested in having the poorest person relate to Heathcliff as I am the richest person."


Like Garfield, Heathcliff’s true potential wasn’t relegated to newsprint. By 1982, the cat’s merchandising deals were so profitable that Gately and partners raked in $55 million in licensing revenue.


In 1986, Heathcliff broke one of the last remaining taboos of celebrities and opted to endorse a feces-related product. Heathcliff’s Blue Ribbon Cat Litter promised to be “dust-free” and could absorb 1.5 times its weight in liquid. The ad copy got right to the point: “The competition stinks.”


In October 1981, New Jersey's Asbury Park Press decided to allot space to one of the leading cat comic strips and asked readers to decide which one it would be. Garfield won, but only by a nose: The lasagna-engorged cat drew 326 votes to Heathcliff’s 324. One reader didn't appear enamored with either choice and opted for a write-in: “Bring us Marmaduke.”


T.J. Bell, driver of the #50 Heathcliff's Cat Litter Ford leads Joe Ruttman, driver of the #4 Open Joist Dodge during the Sam's Town 400 at Texas Motor Speedway June 8, 2007 in Fort Worth, Texas
Chris Graythen, Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway

We’re not entirely sure what to make of the association, but beginning in 2004, Heathcliff was a sponsor for NASCAR driver T.J. Bell. Bell wore a Heathcliff character logo on his racing suit; his Ford F-150 car was dubbed the “No. 50 Heathcliff’s Cat Litter Ford.”


When Gately retired from the strip in 1998 (he died in 2001), Heathcliff continued—thanks in large part to the work of Peter Gallagher, Gately’s nephew, who had been working as Gately’s apprentice since 1994. Still appearing in newspapers across the country, Heathcliff is billed as "the original orange cat."


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