Cory McLeod may only be 31 years old, but he has more memories to look back on than most. From the day he was born, the Dubai resident’s parents began taking a daily photo of him, a tradition that he has continued into his adult life.
The project started out as a product of its time, with pictures being taken on film cameras, printed out and organised into physical photo albums, filling shelves of his family home in Yorkshire, England.
“My dad Ian came up with the idea one evening. Obviously back then it was pre-internet and pre-digital, so he just wanted to do a flipbook, he thought he’d just do it for a couple of years, but once he got to two, three years in, he thought: ‘Well I can’t really stop now,' so he carried on,” McLeod, an event co-ordinator, tells The National.
But it was only when YouTube began rising in popularity, well over a decade after the project began, that Ian had the idea to share the photos with the world. The family chose the milestone of his 21st birthday to turn the photo collection into a YouTube video, which snowballed into a viral hit.
The six-minute video, simply titled 21 Years, was uploaded to the site in 2012, attracting attention from news sites around the world. It currently has 6.6. million views.
“We didn’t really know how it would go, we just pressed upload and within a few weeks, it went viral,” he says. “We spoke to our local and national papers, and then people in the US wanted to speak to us, too."
“It was amazing to see how interested people were, when I was younger, people didn’t really understand,” he continues. “I could be on school trips and he’d have to ask teachers to take a photo, even my mum didn’t really understand at times. As far as we know, we are the only people to have done this from birth.”
Through university, travelling and moving to Dubai, McLeod decided to continue the project himself, taking daily selfies on his phone instead of posing for his father. To mark his 30th birthday, McLeod decided to create an updated version of the video, which took a year to make, this time using technology to line the 11,322 photos up better.
Two minutes extend the video and flash through his twenties, marking some important milestones — from his move to the UAE to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic — visible through several photos featuring him wearing a facemask.
As well as updating the recently released video, McLeod has also written a book to accompany it entitled 30 Years: A Life Lived Every Day, set for release later this year.
“Thirty just felt like the next milestone,” he says. “I had the idea to write a book to go with the video, because you see all these photos but you don’t really see what’s going on in the background or get the full story. It ended up taking two and a half years to put together.
“I think people might see the book and think it’s a nice story, but it also covers some dark periods of my life — being bullied, relationships, anxiety, starting my own business — there’s a lot in there.”
Naturally, there have been plenty of times when McLeod didn’t feel like taking the photo, especially during what he describes as some “rough teenage years”, but he now appreciates how unique the project is.
“It’s such a cool thing, there are so many things that I would have otherwise forgotten about — trips with my parents, things that are hidden in the background of the pictures,” he says. "It's a really special project to have as a family."
And he doesn’t plan on stopping at 30.
“I’m going to have to just do it all the way now aren’t I?” he laughs. “It would be pretty cool to see someone’s whole life.”
30 Years: A Life Lived Every Day is available to pre-order at jmdmedia.co.uk/products/30-years-a-life-lived-every-day