The First Photo (1982)
This is the story of five friends whose fates were intertwined after having a photo taken together. Back in 1982, on July 4th, John Wardlaw, Mark Rumer, Dallas Burney, John Molony, and John Dickson decided to take a strange photo during their lakeside vacation.
They sat on a deck railing, all pulled the same brooding expressions, and snapped away. However, at the time, they had no idea that they would end up returning to the exact same scenario every five years…
The Five Year Photo gang’s story actually started a few years before they took that first, life-changing photo. While all of the guys met each other under different circumstances, it was when John Dickson (JD) and John Wardlaw (Wedge) met that truly put this story into motion.
After the 1977 Sycamore Fire burned down Wedge’s home, his family rented a home from the Dicksons. Soon after, JD and Wedge became good friends, along with John Molony (Belves), Dallas Burney (Sallad), and Mark Rumer (Kram).
It Was JD’s Idea
After graduating in 1982, Wedge invited JD and the others to his grandparents’ cabin, located in Copco Lake, Northern California. About midway through the month that they spent at that lake house, JD saw the mountains in the background and thought it was a perfect opportunity to take a great group photo.
So he pulled out his 35mm camera, used a self-timer, and posed with his friends on the rail of the deck. Seeing the end result changed their lives forever…
Wedge Turned It Into A Tradition
While JD was the one who organized the first group photo back in 1982, it was Wedge who ultimately transformed the seemingly one-off moment into a “quinquennial” tradition.
According to the gang, it was Wedge who wanted to recreate the first photo when they returned to the lake five years later. From that point onwards, it was Wedge who’d bring a camera with him and organize the photos. However, Wedge believes that the tradition had been agreed on from the very start…
Let’s Make A Pact
In an interview with the Santa Barbara News Press, Wedge recalled the moment the five decided to turn this group photo into a tradition. “Once we took it and saw the photo, we said, ‘We should come back and take it in five years,'” he said.
“‘We have to vow to do it every five years.'” As far as he was concerned, taking a photo every five years was a good enough incentive to stay in touch with each other. But would it work?
The Second Photo (1987)
As promised, the gang took the exact same photo, in the exact same location, with the exact same people. While everything seemed to be in place (mysterious jar and topless men included), there was one jarring technical error that set the two photos apart from each other.
In the 1987 photo, it was revealed that Wedge’s shoulder (furthest left) was not behind Mark’s, unlike the original in 1982. In order to rectify the “error,” they photoshopped Mark’s shoulder years later.
Why The Long Faces?
One question that fans have asked the gang over the years is why they decided to have such deadpan expressions when taking each photo. Wedge and the others looked so down and decided to maintain those same faces with each photo (except for 1997).
“For some reason, we all chose to have dark, mysterious expressions on our faces,” Wedge said. “I’m sure we all thought we were being really cool.” This group of friends were happy to poke fun at their younger selves.
They Wanted To Make A Movie
In 1992, the gang ended up bringing a couple of unfamiliar faces with them. This is because they weren’t even planning on taking the Five Year Photo this time around.
Instead, they were planning on making a movie and the friends they had brought along were going to star in it. It was called You Only Die Once. While it’s unclear whether or not they even completed the movie, they ultimately decided to carry on the tradition instead…
The Third Photo (1992)
Once again, the five returned to Copco Lake five years later. However, unlike the previous two photos, which were against a blue sky backdrop, there was an overcast, which meant it wasn’t as hot as previous vacations.
As a result, the entire gang decided to wear T-shirts for the third photo. It was clear that they were all men now. However, there is still one outstanding question that wasn’t answered until recently: What is the story behind that mysterious jar?
That Mysterious Jar
One of the most enigmatic details about the original 1982 photo is the jar that John Molony (Belves) is holding. According to the gang, they found a cockroach during their vacation and made it their mascot, putting it in a jar with a butterscotch candy.
“For some reason we thought he might be lonely so we cut out a photo of actor Robert Young…from a coffee advertisement and placed him in the jar,” the gang wrote. “Over the years the jars changed and were empty.”
The Fourth Photo (1997)
By the time 1997 came around, the five were still dedicated to recreating the photo tradition they first started 15 years prior. However, they admitted that they got a bit lazy with the organization of the fourth photo.
The biggest difference saw JD and Sallad smiling, deviating from the previous tradition of all five friends giving deadpan expressions. As the years went on, the gang developed a formula, a set of guidelines, if you will, of how they take the “Five Year Photo…”
As the years passed, Wedge and the gang developed rules of how to take that definitive “Five Year Photo.” They make sure to always sit in the same places and they also look at the original 1982 picture to make sure everything is in place (holding the jar right, pulling the long faces, and even their shoulder arrangements).
However, after all of that meticulous planning, one of the gang usually yells, “Just take the darn photo!” Which leads us to 2002…
The Fifth Photo (2002)
After taking a more relaxed approach five years prior, the gang decided to return to the roots of the original photo. However, not even all of the planning could prevent them from making a ton of mistakes.
While they admitted that the much larger jar was a deliberate joke, Sallad accidentally smiled, a mistake that the rest of the gang have never fully forgiven him for. Not to mention the fact that Belves forgot to wear sunglasses (this was photoshopped later on).
They Nearly Broke The Pact
It was around this time that the gang nearly sabotaged their quinquennial tradition, when they considered taking the sacred photo earlier than they usually would. Some of the friends have been to the lake during other years.
However, they ultimately fought temptations to break their pact. “One time, we went up early. Mark refused to be in the photograph,” JD said. “We were all sitting out there and he wouldn’t come out.” But is their pact still intact?
‘Til Death Do Us Part?
One question that many fans have had asked is what the gang will do if one of them dies. Most of the time, Wedge and co. have agreed to carry on the tradition, while leaving blank spaces for any of their fallen friends.
“We thought an Urn might be funny, since we have a sense of humor about it,” the gang wrote on their website. “There are plenty of ideas but the real answer is we will keep taking the photo.”
Entering The Digital Age
Fast forward another five years and the gang were on the verge of capturing their sixth Five Year Photo. However, this time, things were a little different. They traded in film for a digital camera.
While one would assume that this would make things easier, the gang believes it has made things more complicated. “It took 30 seconds to take the original,” Wedge said. “Now it takes [an] half hour to take a photo because it has to be perfect.”
The Sixth Photo (2007)
After using that hilariously large jar five years prior, the gang decided to use a duplicate of the original to make things just a bit more authentic. They even put a butterscotch candy inside the jar.
Funnily enough, many fans accused the gang of displaying the photos in the wrong order on their website, seeing as they supposedly look younger in this 2007 edition. However, there is a chance that this is due to the higher quality of the digital camera.
Some Things Changed, Others Didn’t
It makes sense that the gang would do “nostalgic” things in future photos to hark back to their younger selves. However, they know all too well that change is inevitable.
As a result, they try not to take the photos too seriously. Take the sunglasses for example, which only Belves is wearing in certain photos. In others though, the entire gang is wearing shades. Not to mention the gang’s choices to wear or not to wear T-shirts…
Keeping Up With The Times
As previously mentioned, the Five Year Photos show how change is inevitable. There are certain aspects of our lives that will not stay the same.
Wedge has always been a believer in trying new things. Although his project is all about the paradox of time and change, he has no problem trying out new technology in order to get the perfect photo. He happily uses a Mac book in order get things just right. Which leads us to the seventh photo…
The Seventh Photo (2012)
In their seventh photo, which was taken in 2012, the gang went to some extraordinary lengths (literally), in order to make it happen. At the time, members of the gang were living in New Orleans, Portland, Santa Barbara, and Antioch, respectively.
This made organizing the shoot something of a logistical nightmare. Nevertheless, they made it happen. Also, they took the jar pretty seriously, adding all the original contents: a photo of Robert Young, a butterscotch candy, and even a plastic cockroach.
Look, We’re On TV!
Wedge couldn’t believe it when NBC called him up and asked him if he could bring the gang to NYC. The network wanted to have them on The Today Show and unsurprisingly, they flew all the way to have an interview with Matt Lauer.
Wedge admitted that they were in high demand at the time and had to turn down the likes of ABC, CBS and Fox, amongst others. It was one of the greatest days of their lives, for a number of reasons…
Seeing that they were in NYC and making a name for themselves on TV, the gang got the opportunity to join forces with another awesome gang of five – the Fierce Five!
This was, of course, the five gymnasts who took the Summer Olympics by storm back in 2012. After the show, the gang got to hang out with McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Kyla Ross and Jordyn Wieber. They even managed to have a group photo – definitely another one for the collection!
Loved Ones Have Come & Gone…
As each five years pass, the gang has been through so much in their personal lives. By 2012, only two out of the five were married. Yet, by the time 2017 came around, they all were.
Nevertheless, the photo tradition is still intact. “I look at the photos and think of the relationships I went through. Wedding rings come and go if you look closely,” JD said. “Watch us lose hair, gain forehead…and gain and lose weight.”
Whatever It Takes
One thing is for sure: no matter how far they drift apart, the five friends do whatever it takes to make sure that the Five Year Photo happens. “Mark drove all night just to get there this year,” JD said.
“He arrived at 3 a.m. the day of the photo.” He went as far to say that if he was stuck in a hospital, he would get the gang to bring him to Copco Lake in a stretcher. Now that’s dedication.
25 Years Later
As the summer of 2017 approached, the gang was as determined as ever to come together at Copco Lake to take that classic photo. Only this time, things were a little different.
For starters, the five men are no longer the young high school kids who were able to prank each other for an entire month. They simply don’t have the energy (or desire) to do that anymore. Nevertheless, the gang still keeps the tradition alive until this very day…
The Eighth Photo (2017)
Funnily enough, after appearing as guests on Matt Lauer’s show in 2012, the gang decided to honor him by putting a photo of him in the jar (instead of Robert Young) for their 2017 edition.
This is actually the first time that the three Johns went shirtless since their 1987 edition, making it some sort of strange 30-year anniversary. While it’s great seeing each photo individually, we thought we’d put them all together to see the gang’s transformation in all their glory…
A Work Of Art
It’s amazing just how far the gang’s Five Year Photos have traveled. Not only have Wedge and the gang become American heroes, but they have also reached as far as Germany. Their photos have become so popular that they have even ended up in museums!
Just a couple of a years ago, the Museum fur Kommunikation in Frankfurt, Germany, included the eight photos in one of its exhibitions, displaying them in chronological order above some furniture.
All Of The Years
As of May 2019, the gang has taken a staggering eight photos – in 1982, 1987, 1992, 1997, 2002, 2007, 2012, and 2017. While they might not have intended it back then, the collage shows just how far they have come together and the impact that a pact can have on friendship.
“We will return to Robert Young in 2022 or perhaps we’ll have a contest in which the winner gets to be the head in a jar,” the gang wrote on their website. See you in 2022!