A Boston College Professor Has Taken a ‘Selfie’ Everyday for the Last 27 Years
Karl Baden's feat is part of an ongoing project that explores mortality and obsession.
Karl Baden has been taking a photo of himself every morning, in the same exact position to the best of his ability, for the last 27 years.
And he doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
āIāll stop when Iām dead. If Iām dead, I wonāt know what will happen with [my project] from there, but the plan is to have an institution acquire it in some form,ā said Baden, a photography professor at Boston College.
This past weekend marked roughly 9,800 days since he first started sitting down in front of a camera lens to snap a photo of himself for the āEvery Dayā project, which began on February 23, 1987. The daily task is part of a decades-long examination of the role that mortality plays in peopleās lives, and, more obviously, how age changes oneās appearance. Barden said it also serves as a āmeta commentā on the idea of obsession, and doing something repetitiously.
āArtists need to be obsessive to get the work that they have to get done, done. They have to have some inner drive to do it; this is taking it to another step. This is a comment on the obsession and obsessively making work,ā he said. āThe idea of making and taking photographs has a lot to do with documenting things over time. Many people have attempted that in terms of looking at cities, and locations, or even oneās own familyākids growing up, that sort of thing. So I felt that it might be interesting to take it a step further.ā
The idea first came to mind in the 1970s, but when he brought up the concept to a friend, he was told it was āstupid.ā That insight put a damper on his ambitions for more than decade, but his curiousness about taking on such a long-term project lingered in his mind. So, finally, one day he took the plunge, despite his criticās opinion. āPeople asked me over the years, why did you start on that date, and to the best of my recollection, I said, āwell, that was just the day I started it.ā There was nothing special about it, it was random,ā he said.
But the death of artist Andy Warhol may have played a role, in retrospect. āHe made films where very little happens for a longtime, like Sleep. Thinking back now, Iām sure that Warholās death was the final straw. It was the thing that pushed me over the edge to start doing it. And by that time, I think that I was physically and emotionally ready.ā
Since the beginning, the process for āEvery Dayā has been something reminiscent of Groundhog Day. Baden usually wakes up, gets ready for work or the weekend, and then simply snaps the photo using the same camera and the same lighting that he has used for nearly three decades. The type of film has changed over time, he said, because only because the older products he relied on are no longer made.
āI donāt do anything to change my face intentionally. I donāt grow beards or mustaches, and I keep my hair the same,ā he said. āI donāt use any unusual angles, and I donāt use any unusual lenses, or filters, or lighting sources. I try to keep all artistic conceits out of the picture. I try to achieve identical images, but I canāt always, because Iām human, and I make mistakes, and the camera makes mistakes. Those are all accepted as part of the project.ā
Once he takes a photo, he collects the negatives and keeps them organized and well documented in a safe place, and brings them out when he needs to make prints, or in the case of one undertaking, he made to show the progression of age: a video.
Taking the same photo every day for almost 30 years sounds like a daunting task, but since the start, Baden said he could only remember one time that he forgot to take a portrait of himself, and in the end, it didnāt put a serious dent in his ever-expanding project.
āItās not a very exciting story at all,ā he said. āOn October 15, 1991, I was teaching at [the Rhode Island School of Design], and usually I take the picture after I get up and take a shower. There was a rush to get to the school that day, and I made a mental note to take it when I got back home, and I forgot.ā
Since then, not a day has gone by that Baden didnāt sit down and let the camera capture a shot of his face.
Over the years, as various milestones approached in terms of time since he first started, Baden has put his work on display in numerous art galleries and museums. He said he also uses the photos for projects in his classes at Boston College.
When Baden set forth on his photography endeavor, he never imagined that one day the āselfieā would become a household term, and take the Internet by storm. Calling it a ādistantly related topic,ā he isnāt doing this project to be known as the āselfieā king, or even to land a spot in the Guinness Book of World Recordsāfor him itās art, and the exploration of the human condition.
āItās photography in its most fundamental form,ā he said.
Source URL: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/arts-entertainment/blog/2014/02/24/karl-baden-every-day-photography-project/