Monday, August 10, 2015

25: Still Alive

This isn't how it was supposed to be. This isn't how I planned it.

But it's how it is.

Since my 21st birthday, I've been taking self-portraits. The first one was taken because it was a landmark birthday. There was no future plans, I just wanted to remember who I was when I turned 21 and I had been aching to take a portrait of someone on the stairs of my apartment.

Then, people liked the photo. More importantly, I liked the photo.

Portraits, in general, give us the chance to study the person presented. They give us the chance to be voyeuristic and take in all the subtleties we care to. If you turn the camera on yourself, it allows you to do the same thing to yourself.

I haven't shown any of these portraits to anyone, save for the first one. I've been doing this on the down low for five years, hoping to have something interesting by the end of five. I don't really know how anyone else will feel looking at these photos. Maybe they'll just be seen as a vainglorious venture of little interest.

I don't care. It's not for you, it's for me.

I want to measure my time and see who I was at each of these points; to see where I was both physically and emotionally. One photograph every birthday.


21, Bozeman, MT: Sitting on the steps of my apartment after a night out at the bars with about three or so friends. My birthday wasn't nearly as big as I had anticipated, and I think the only person who bought me a drink was a bartender who gave me a free shot. This was the start of my second year at this apartment and the beginning of my senior year of college. I had just returned from a month in Africa about a week earlier. I was struggling to re-adjust to everything we take for granted. I couldn't help but feel guilty. I was trying to understand an intimate and confusing relationship I had formed with a girl I'd worked with in Africa. I had also had a drunken argument with what was one of my closest friends the night before. I was dealing with what would become a much larger split between us. Somehow, I think I felt good at this moment. This was a break in the storm and a time before relationships fell apart. I spoke with my dad on the phone that morning after finding my cellphone in the park a few blocks away. He said, "You're a man now." It meant a lot to me. It meant much less to my lady-friend when I told her about it that night at Music on Main.


22, Bozeman, MT: I was upset. I was homeless, living off my friend's couch, and preparing to leave the state, having just finished my degree. My lease had ended a month before I thought it would, meaning I had to throw my stuff together and out of the apartment in a hurry. I had a few friends come to the bar to say goodbye that night, but not nearly as many as has RSVP'd to my birthday/going away celebration. It hurt. I felt alone. I didn't know what was coming next, besides the eventual move to Missouri within a month. I didn't have a job or housing lined up. I felt very disconnected from everything. 


23, Columbia, MO: I had been living in Columbia just under a year and was working at the Columbia Daily Tribune part-time. My puppy had made his way back to me in December 2012 when my parents brought him back to me for Christmas. He was one of my few friends at the time, as I struggled to adjust to the social scene, being a recent grad and not having enough money to go downtown often. I was struggling to find inspiration to make images at this point and waiting for an opportunity to advance at the Tribune, taking whatever photo assignments I got. I went out to the bars alone this night, made a couple drunken friends, and woke up on the cold marble in front of the fireplace in my house.


24, Columbia, MO: I was struggling to stand for this picture. I was dealing with a hangover that would prove to be one of my worst. But I was feeling optimistic. I was beginning grad school the next morning and a bunch of my new classmates had taken me out the previous night, paying for all my drinks and treating me like an old friend. I couldn't remember a birthday where I felt that good before. I felt like I belonged, like I'd found some friends finally, after a long two years in Columbia with so few friends, especially of my own age. I'm also dealing with the ache of having to say goodbye to South Korea, where I planned to go teach English instead of attend graduate school. It was hard standing at the precipice of that life choice, realizing how completely different those two paths were and how much my life differed on each of them. I had never wanted to go back to school again. Ever. I also find it funny looking back, realizing that as a kid I thought 24 would be my prime. I thought I'd be married and making good money and figured this would probably be the year I'd buy a house. Instead, I was headed back to school, single, with over $20k in debt renting a house with three other strangers.


25, Columbia, MO: Here I am. 25. There's a lot going on in my mind, and I've spent the day somewhat in awe that I'm still alive. Another part has been somewhat disturbed by the ever encroaching 30. I'm headed to the back nine of my 20's and it's scary. Life isn't what I'd thought it'd be. I realize that every year I have to swallow a big hard pill of what life is really like, and how hard and complicated decisions become as you get older. I'm trying to figure out the next step, while not tripping over the current one. I'm in a new house once again. 

That's all I've got to share this time around. Twenty-five is still a little too fresh to divulge all that's going on in my life. The descriptions will be better next time, I hope. It's been a rush to get this up after work with how busy life has been.

The project is all being shot on a Graflex 4x5 press camera with expired Fuji 100C45. As the first image shows, the idea is to strip all the negatives, as it is a beautiful tonality. But, life being imperfect, I've hit a bunch of roadblocks, most important of which is a V700 scanner that's failing to focus, so I don't have the negatives, or even good scans of the polaroids.

Forgive me.

I won't show anymore portraits until 2020, when I turn 30.

We'll see what all these pictures have to say then.

Thanks for looking.

Instagram: @justnlstewart


  1. You seem to get more bald every year. PS, come visit on your birthday next year and we'll take you out

  2. You are very good at writing Justin and your photos always speak volumes. And I love this idea you have and I know that you will find your place in this world as we eventually do. For those who wander further it can be a lonely venture at times. But you a intelligent, talented, creative and driven and will find where you want to be. Love you so much! Thank you for sharing : )

  3. Fantastic. Excited to read and see more.