For three decades, starting in the 1930s, he did the same thing. He’d sit inside a photo booth. He’d smile. He’d pose.
And then—pop! pop! pop!—out would pop a glossy self-portrait, in shades of black and white. There he was, staring back at himself … and grinning. And, sometimes, almost scowling. There he was, mirthful. And, sometimes, almost scornful.
The man—nobody knows who he was—repeated this process 455 times, at least, and he did so well into the 1960s. Nobody knows for sure why he did it. Or where he did it. All we know is that he took nearly 500 self-portraits over the course of thirty years, at a time when taking self-portraits was significantly more difficult than it is today, creating a striking record of the passage of time.
The man’s effort is now being shared with the public in the form of a collection being shown at Rutgers’ Zimmerli Art Museum in New Brunswick. “445 Portraits of a Man,” the exhibit is appropriately called, takes these early, earnest selfies and presents them as art.