Five friends who have been taking the same photo every five years since 1982 are due for another photo, and they just shared it for the world to see.
Last month, John “JD” Dickson, Dallas Burney, Mark Rumer-Cleary, John “Belves” Molony, and John “Wedge” Wardlaw took the ninth photo of their “Five Year Photo Project”.
They went to the same place they always had—a prefabricated cabin at Copco Lake along the California-Oregon border.
The men, who are all 59 (except Rumer-Cleary, who is 58), feared it could be a photo of four friends this year when Burney, the guy in the middle, was diagnosed with liposarcoma.
In 2019, he had a large cancerous tumor removed from his left leg. He has some mobility issues, but he can still walk.
He’s certainly grateful to be alive.
“It’s nice to get back here and know that the cancer was not going to eliminate what we’re doing,” he told CNN.
The group hadn’t all been together since taking their last photo in 2017 because of Burney’s cancer scare and the pandemic, which made reunions difficult.
The night before taking their latest photo, the men gathered to feast on “Wedge” tacos, which Wardlaw makes by stuffing meat into hard taco shells and pan frying them so hot he wears safety glasses and a glove to protect against splatter.
On a Wednesday, the five sat on the deck railing in the same order and in the same poses they have been striking since 1982 to honor a tradition that started 40 years ago.
Burney’s right hand rests inside his right knee. A hat perches on Rumer-Cleary’s knee or lap. And Molony holds up a jar in his right hand.
In the original photo, the jar contains a cockroach they caught near the cabin, a butterscotch candy (roach food), and a cut-out photo of actor Robert Young from a coffee advertisement to keep the insect “company.”
A few photos ago, some of them even began wearing the same clothes to bring the photos as close to the originals as possible.
Rumer-Cleary, a software engineer who co-founded Occam Networks, said that strangers stop him at times.
“It’s happened to me for a couple reasons,” he said. “I’m 6-foot-6 and I have facial hair. They won’t pick it out right off the bat. ‘You look familiar, I can’t tell why.'”
The friends, who all graduated from Santa Barbara High School, took the first photo when they were 19 with an automatic camera timer.
The Copco Lake cabin where their reunions happen was built by Wardlaw’s grandfather in 1970.
During their 1982 outing in the lake, JD was the only one with a real 35mm camera, and he was the one who said they should take some group photos.
In 1987, Wardlaw was able to get all five men to go on a trip to the lake again, and he brought up the idea of duplicating the first photo. He has taken all the photos after the first one.
“Once we took it and saw the photo, we said, ‘We should come back and take it in five years.’ I said, ‘We have to vow to do it every five years,'” he told the Santa Barbara News-Press in a 2007 interview.
Dickson is the only one who has stayed in Santa Barbara, where he operates a tourism website.
Molony is a New Orleans-based photographer. Wardlaw is a filmmaker and photographer who resides in Bend, Oregon.
Rumer-Cleary is retired and lives in Portland, Oregon. Burney is a retired Air Force veteran who will enter his 23rd year of teaching in the fall in Northern California.
At the time of the 2012 photo, only two of them were married. By the 2017 picture, all of them were married, and JD already had a son.
As for the question of how long they plan to take the photograph, Wardlaw said they have come up with several ideas.
“When the story went viral in 2012 we were asked this question quite often. So we started thinking. We might still opt for the blank space.”
“We thought an Urn might be funny, since we have a sense of humor about it,” he wrote on their website. “Another option is that we each have a mug with our nickname one it,” Wardlaw added.
“The mug for that person could be placed in the blank space. How about a cardboard cut out? There are plenty of ideas but the real answer is we will keep taking the photo.”
“We will keep taking it until there is no one left and then hopefully someone, perhaps John Dicksons’ son will take a photo of an empty deck railing where we once sat.”
These guys are very lucky to have such a strong friendship! If you’d like updates on the “Five Year Photo Project,” you can visit their website or follow them on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Back in August 2012, the group appeared on the Today Show to share their story. Here’s how it went down.
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