Every day since February 23, 1987 artist Karl Baden has done the same thing: take a simple black and white photo of his face. In fact, over a period of 27 years, Baden has amassed a stunning collection including over 9,500 selfies, showing the progression of how his face has changed over time, including the effects of his battle with and recovery from cancer.
Baden says he conceived of the plan to document the daily changes in his appearance as a student in 1975. He then began the project, entitled “Every Day,” when he was 35 years old and hasn’t stopped taking photos since.
Perhaps the most fascinating part of the project was his decision to piece the photos together into a two-minute video showing the progression of changes in his appearance.
Over the course of the video, Baden morphs from a fresh-faced young man into his currently 61-year-old old self; wrinkles appear and his hair starts to turn gray. At the end of the video, he puts on glasses to illustrate how his eyesight has also changed.
Perhaps the most compelling part of the video, however, is the period of time when he went through cancer treatment. During this part of the video, his eyebrows disappear and he appears more gaunt. Later, as he make changes to his lifestyle following his illness, his return to health is also evident in the time-lapse video.
As to why he took on the lifelong project, Baden says it is an examination of the role that mortality plays in people’s lives and how age changes us.
He further notes that it is a “meta comment” on the idea of obsession since he must perform the same action of taking a photo each and every day without stopping. “Artists need to be obsessive to get the work that they have to get done, done,” he says.
He keeps the content of his selfies simple, he says. He doesn’t do anything to drastically change his appearance, such as changing hairstyles or growing facial hair. He also doesn’t try to change anything else like camera angles or lenses to create special effects. He always takes a simple black and white photo with him looking straight into the camera. While he tries to keep the images as similar as possible, he does admit that they aren’t always completely identical “because I’m human, and I make mistakes…” He adds, “Those are all accepted as part of the project.”
What is the biggest mistake that Baden has ever made in his project? One day he completely forgot to take a picture of himself when he was running late to teach a photography class.
As to when the daily selfie project might end, Baden says he has no plans to stop until he is dead. ‘If I’m dead,” he says, “I won’t know what will happen with [my project] from there, but the plan is to have an institution acquire it in some form.”
The time lapse video showing 24 years, eight months, 11 days and two minutes of Baden’s life, including the cancer selfies, can be viewed below:
By Nancy Schimelpfening