Sunday, October 24, 2004

Of Polaroids and Lasting Friendship

When Jamie Livingston, photographer, filmmaker, circus performer, accordian player, massive Mets fan, and above all, loyal friend, died on October 25th (his birthday) in 1997 at the age of 41, he left behind hundreds of bereft friends and a collection of 6,000 photographs neatly organized in small suitcases and wooden fruit crates.

Jamie took a polaroid once a day, every day, including his last, for 18 years.

This photographic diary, which he called, "Polaroid of the Day," or P.O.D., began when Jaime was a student at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson. The project continued when he moved to apartments in New York City including the incredible circus memorabelia-filled loft on Fulton Street, which he shared with his best friend. That loft was the site of many a Glug party, an "orphans thanksgiving," a super-8 festival of Jamie's lyrical films, and a rollicking music jam.

The picture taking continued as Jamie traveled the world with the Janus Circus, his very own circus-troupe, and later when he became a much-in-demand cinematographer and editor of music videos back in the early days of MTV. He contributed his talents to the ground-breaking Nike "Revolution" spot and many other commercials, too. Through it all he took pictures, made movies, and loved his friends. And the polaroids reflect all of that: a life bursting with activity, joy and sadness too.

Jamie brought his camera wherever he went. As one friend said, "It probably helped his social life because everyone wanted to be in a photo of the day." It was always interesting to see what Jaime deemed worthy of a P.O.D. Hepcat remembers his own 30th birthday party in his photo studio on Ludlow Street: "Hundreds of people filled my loft and the party snaked down Ludlow Street to Stanton. But what did Jamie take a picture of? A potato chip or something. It was a gorgeous shot, though."

But more often than not, the photos were of friends, family, himself, special places he had visited, or just something that caught his discriminating eye. And if he'd been to a Mets Game that day, that was it -- a Mets game was always a worthy P.O.D.

And the pictures are utterly gorgeous miracles of photographic artistry. The color, the light, the time lapse swirls, the unerring composition. Whether it was a still life of what he'd eaten for dinner, an unblinking shot of his beloved grandfather (Pops), or swooningly romantic portraits of his beautiful wife or ex-girlfriends, any one of these photographs should be in a museum collection. But perhaps more importantly, Jamie's friends and the world need access to these pictures, which is why his devoted friends have been talking for years about ways to exhibit this massive body of work.

Back in September at a bris for the son of a good friend, Hepcat and Metsy, one of Jamie's still devoted ex-girlfriends, started talking about the P.O.D.s. Hepcat said, "Why don't we finally re-photograph all 6,000 of them and put them on a web site." And that's practically what they did. They spent many October days digitally re-photographing the picures. This labor of love was also exceedingly labor intensive and they only got up to 1990 (the P.O.D.s started in 1978). But they will finish the rest in the weeks to come and the site will go LIVE on the Internet very, very soon.

Last night, at the "Jamie Fest," a commemoration of the seventh anniversary of his death, a small group of friends gathered at the envy-inducing loft of one of Jamie's oldest, dearest friends in Tribeca and were treated to a veritable feast of PODs, films, good red wine, beer, and Chinese food. There was a warmth in that room, a convivial feeling of purpose, as the friends remembered their friend who left behind a journal of his life and their's too.

Hepcat set up a random, non-chronological slide show of these pictures, as well as a special "computer station" where Jamie's friends could browse the well-indexed shots year-by-year, month-by-month, day-by-day. Hunched over the computer,some pictures made them sad, some made them reflective, some made them very, very quiet. Others made them laugh or squeal with recognition of an almost forgotten face, a wonderful memory, a special time too, too long ago.

Jamie was the best man at Hepcat and Smartmom's wedding. He was a treasured friend to Hepcat since their days at Bard College. Smartmom met Jamie soon after meeting Hepcat, probably at the Great Jones Cafe, and always enjoyed their group adventures, including the annual walk of the elephants down 34th Street when the Ringling Brothers Circus arrived in town, the trips to photo shows to buy cameras and old photographs, their brunches at the Cottonwood Cafe, or seeing the Mets, and the Rolling Stones' Steel Wheels tour at Shea Stadium. Smartmom remembers when Jamie visited her at the hospital when she was having pre-term labor with Teen Spirit and nearly lost him. And she remembers how he carried his and Metsy's heavy gift of a vintage toy box to Teen Spirit's first birthday party in Prospect Park.

At the "Jamie Fest" last night, Smartmom located the stunning P.O.D. of her wedding day and marveled at how young and thin she was back then (marriage and kids really ages you, thought Smartmom). Hepcat too looked so young and handsome in his father's tuxedo. She also found the picture from the night before the wedding when Jaime and Metsy joined Hepcat and Smartmom in the emergency room at Beth Israel Hospital because Hepcat thought he had a broken his neck in a minor (okay major) car accident a few days before the wedding (pre-wedding nerves, no doubt).

Jaime and Metsy sat with them from mid-night until five a.m. while they waited for Hepcat's neck to be X-rayed. It turned out that Hepcat had a nasty case of whiplash and had to wear a neck brace to the wedding. When Smartmom suggested that Jamie and Metsy go home to get some sleep, Jaime refused to budge saying, "I'm your bestman. This is part of my job."

Jamie, thank you for being our bestman. And thanks for giving us a stunning portrait of our lives. You gave us more than you can ever know.


At 3:17 PM, Blogger mamainwaiting said...

so good. so touching. I feel chills and tears are running down my face at my computer. Please forward me the pix of your wedding. I would love to see them. GA

At 8:21 PM, Blogger brooklynfox said...

SM, so much about you I don't know but it all seems to fit. What a great story. You are lucky to have known Jamie, it sounds like, and I'm sure he felt the same about you and Hepcat. The photo you posted is AMAZING. (I just figured out how to post a photo myself and it really adds to the blog, don't you think?) Beautiful. RFJ

At 11:05 PM, Blogger mamainwaiting said...

thanks for enlarging the photo. I couldn't see it at all before. It's really beautiful. Could HC print it up large and frame it? I got teary again reading the blog. I remember walking down the aisle with JL. He was a very sweet bestman, and a good friend to HC. love, SM

At 4:24 AM, Blogger Udge said...

Sniff, snuffle. Very moving. Jamie sounds like a great guy. How lucky he was, to have had such friends.


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