I expect you’ll agree that life serves up a fair number of repeatable sequences that are simply driven by the calendar, such as birthdays, holidays and certain vacations. And these moments often orbit family events at the same locations.
If you purposefully remember to snap similarly framed photos at these occasions every year… then, think about the mind-bending results.
Now, you’re capturing the passage of time with your smartphone, and you’ve effortlessly stepped into the role of photo historian. And in fact, you’ve created a time machine of sorts.
(How great is that?!)
Granted, this type of project is not for those with short attention spans. You’ve got to put years into it. Even decades.
It’s not difficult to do. You’ve just got to remember a few shots and keep repeating them.
You’ve Probably Already Started
I’ve found it’s better to go with posed shots that are easier to replicate over the course of time. But certain action shots can also be predictable (like blowing out birthday candles). And then it’s always great to connect them together across the years.
To this last point, you might already be collecting certain repeated photo moments. You’ve just got to find them… and then let the magic unveil itself!
(They don’t always have to be taken in the exact same space.)
It’s All about the Journey
The truth is… this type of archival photo documentation never really ends. Assuming you’re printing these photos on quality photo paper, or you’ve figured out a way to ensure your JPEG files survive the passage of time, you should eventually hand off your project to ‘the next generation.’
At some point, we all think about our legacy. That you can hand off those series of images that succinctly represent the journey through life.
What a concept.
And it’s never too late to start.
It’s time to start building your ‘Guardian of Forever.’
I had this crazy idea a few decades back that I would pose for a photo on every birthday and hold up my fingers to identify each new age I was sporting. And then at some point, I would stitch together all of these pictures into a blistering fast video montage.
Decades of my life to date in 10 seconds. Whoa! How cool is that?!
Well, it’s my birthday. And this year, I’ve decided to give it a go…
Are you ready? Here it is…
So, first off… while collecting my photos for this sequence, I realized that I didn’t have access to many of my pictures from before Y2K. The ones I could locate were hidden in buried photo albums and photo boxes… in the attic… in the basement. Many more are still in my father’s apartment in New York City.
And if you think I’ve complained about digital photo organization, my jaw has been hanging open at the disarray of my analog-only photo prints.
(I switched to digital photography in 2000.)
Sure, my mom created some great photo albums when I was a kid, but I haven’t yet digitized most of those pics.
(That’s going to be quite the project!)
All this said, I feel somewhat satisfied that I was able to pull together all of my birthday pictures from 30 years old on and a few from my earlier years.
And I’ve come to the realization…
…that my little visual opus is actually not as interesting as I had anticipated.
Birthdays are for the Moment
Experiencing birthdays can be exhilarating, because they’re your special day. I remember how important those early parties that my parents threw for me felt. Even the birthdays I’ve had as an adult have been lots of fun.
But looking at this montage just doesn’t capture any of that energy.
Perhaps once I get all of the years together… Version 2 may take on a more time-travel-like quality. But the reality is many of my birthdays took place at home. Cozy, but hardly revealing of anything more.
At best, you get you see my aging process. And that I can count on my fingers.
(Actually in some years, I reversed the numbers on my hands.)
This sequence doesn’t tell the story of my life.
What’s the Background?
I thought a bit and realized that the missing ingredient is context. Each of these pics only represent me at the same moment year after year, but they don’t say much else.
A series of the photos that captures my various ‘adventures’ should reveal multiple chapters in a larger story.
(Where am I? What am I doing?)
So, I turned to my Adobe Lightroom photo library and poked around to pull together a separate set of pictures from my adult years, and this is what I came up with…
Well, this certainly provides a lot more visual depth, but which photos to choose can become a mind-boggling process, even if you had organized access to every photo ever taken of you.
And the time it takes to intentionally pick only a few from the hundreds of choices…
To do this thoroughly, it could take someone a whole lot of time to do.
(So, let’s regard this as an early draft.)
But before moving forward to properly complete this multi-decade project, I still felt the design was not complete. There was something else missing.
It’s Not Only About You
Anyone’s life is defined by the people around them. You need to include your own personal community to build out your visual story with any sense of authenticity!
So, I went back again to Lightroom and pulled together a third set of photos that didn’t really focus on me, but on some of the people in my life…
I know it’s mostly a blur with way too many faces to focus on.
At best this version provides just a feeling. An impression of a life to date. Of the many folks who’ve been on the journey with me at different points in time.
(And this version is absolutely incomplete with lots of missing family and friends)
But I think this third design has the most potential…
Which one do you like the best?
(Perhaps a combination of all three?)
Look Back Before Looking Forward
So clearly, I still have more work to do on my “life in photos” project.
But you might be asking yourself why you should also commit to such a complex archival endeavor.
Well, first off… I think a photo sequence housed in video or animated GIF form (especially if it’s slowed down a bit) can be an amazing way to organize and share your most important pictures.
(My 10-second exercise can easily be adapted into a more leisurely pace.)
If you want to find a way to tell your story, this is absolutely one method to use!
And if you’re not sure about your story, this can be a great process to figure it out.
The truth is anyone’s story is constantly evolving, and a little context is always helpful. And this type of project forces you to evaluate your journey on an ongoing basis.
(Or at least every year)
I think it’s always important as you look forward to take some time to look back.
You might remember a few things… a few people… a few moments.
It can help remind you who you really are.
…Who you’ve always been
And who you will be…
And isn’t that the best birthday present you can give to yourself?