For this sketch, I decided to observe the passage of time linearly (as opposed to cyclicly like in my previous sketch) using a series of images of the same subject taken over the course of twenty years. Being a bit of a photophile, I’ve got a plethora of pictures and selfies from travels, vacations, and attempts at getting some good profile pictures for social media. As someone in his 40s, this reserve of images is quite extensive and, for the most part, have a core thing in common–almost all of them were taken by me and many of them are of me.
My inspiration for this sketch? As a kid, I loved expressions; I still do–jokes, plays on words, puns, you name it… I distinctly remember the cover of a birthday card my mother got one year for her birthday that’s stuck with me. Were I to have to swear, I’d insist it was a Shoebox greeting card… you know, the ones with that sassy older lady, Maxine. This card said on the front, “Time marches on…” and then, when you opened it up, it read, “…your face!”
For some reason, ever since then, almost every time I’ve heard the expression about time marching on (in any tense), I’ve finished it in my head with “…your face”—much like when one ends reading the fortune of a fortune cookie with the words “…in bed.” I thought it was a strange expression and got that it was a joke referring to how grownups’ faces age with the years, but it definitely has a different meaning from *this* side of 20+ years later.
Different things change at different rates than others. Just check out the pictures comparing Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita at the same age side-by-side; despite how “youthful” they were, to each of them, surely, the daily change in age was imperceivable. That’s because from day to day we can’t always perceive changes to our surroundings—even when it comes to things we check out on average over twenty times a day, like our faces in the mirror… fortunately, I have that shutterbug stockpile I told you about to draw from.
This sketch addresses the phenomenon that, when you see yourself from day to day, it’s rare to notice changes in things like your facial structure, lines and wrinkles, and overall appearance; heck, 20 years later, it can be practically impossible (with some clear exceptions, see 2011) to differentiate you-at-25 from you-at-26 or -27.
To make this sketch, I spent close to four hours sifting through 20 years of photos (from over 50,000 photos) to find pictures of my face that, ideally, show both eyes and as much both ears as possible. I picked a photo from each year, with the exception of 2010, when I had a major live event happen that would change my life course. This change is set apart as significant in the sketch by giving this year two images that show me in different ‘lights’. (During this time, and the subsequent year, I didn’t have a large pool of photos to pull from.)
Once I had my set of images, I ordered them and then tried matching similar ‘poses’ so the timeline seems to flow more smoothly through connecting commonalities–such as the position of my head/eyes. I created a template in Photoshop to help position my features so they lined up as much as possible between images. Using p5.js, I uploaded the images into an array and then mapped the images in the array to the slider. You can check out the code here on p5js.org.
Here’s a link to a full-page rendering of the sketch. As you scroll through these images:
- Notice how most changes from year to year are virtually indistinguishable, but still there. If you jump from the first to the last, you can definitely tell a good amount of time has passed, in 2001 I was 24; in 2020, I’m 43.
- You may also notice that the same shirt appears in 5 of the photos. Four of them were taken in Tenerife (where I was an exchange student) with 2001 and 2016 being taken at the same spot. From 2005 to the beginning of 2010, I lived in San Diego, which is located in a desert. You can see this reflected in most of my pictures from this time.
- You can also see in these photos my change in weight. I’m 6’6″ (198cm); in 2001, I weight 225lbs [102kg]and you can see where I successfully started a fitness program in 2005. In 2010 Part I, I weighed about 200lbs [90kg]. In the picture in 2011, I had been undergoing months of chemotherapy and was down to 145lbs [66kg]. Knowing I would need a major surgery after almost having died from malnutrition, I started putting on weight as much/fast as possible. In the image for 2017, I was able to successfully double my weight from 2011 to 290lbs [132kg] (before getting to 250lbs [113kg] in the image from 2020.)
- You can also see my hairline move around a bit, as well. In 2011, you’ll notice that, aside from the head on the top of my noggin missing, I have no eyebrows or eyelashes.
Interesting Fact: The first picture of the sketch (from 2001) was taken in the middle of the day in Tenerife. The sky was orange from a phenomenon called La Calima, where winds sweep over the Sahara, out over the Atlantic carrying with them visible quantities of sand, turning the sky this orange color. This is dangerous as it can sit for days, coating everything in a layer of Sahara and filling the lungs of anyone who steps outside, sending many people to the hospital. (You may also notice I have a cold sore, also common during La Calima.)
Like so much of the world around us, these visual cues are ones that remind us of the passage of time. With the advent of digital photography, it’s become easier than ever to capture and catalog these gradual changes. I hope you enjoy the sketch that has resulted from my work of gathering, sorting, and formatting these images.
Having looked through changes in photos from year to year, it’s easy to see how having longer periods of time between images makes differences more noticeable. Interestingly, the same is true when it comes to art like flip book animations. You see, on the other end of the spectrum—at a more micro level, the human body, at least the eye, is capable of perceiving things occurring much faster than a second. My next sketch explores this through the creation of a flip book. Check out my flip book post here.