Five friends who went viral for taking the same photo since 1982 just took their latest picture

Five of their friends, who have taken the same photo every five year since 1982, are due for another one. They just shared it with the world.

Last month, John “JD” Dickson, Dallas Burney, Mark Rumer-Cleary, John “Belves” Molony, and John “Wedge” Wardlaw took the ninth photo of their “Five Year Photo Project”.

They went to the same place they always had—a prefabricated cabin at Copco Lake along the California-Oregon border.

The men, all 59, except Rumer-Cleary who is 58, feared it could be a photo with four of their friends. This year, Burney, the man in the middle, was diagnosed as having liposarcoma.

Instagram | 1982

He had a large, cancerous tumor removed from his left side in 2019. He still walks with some mobility issues.

He’s certainly grateful to be alive.

“It’s nice to get back here and know that the cancer was not going to eliminate what we’re doing,” he told CNN. 

The group hadn’t all been together since taking their last photo in 2017 because of Burney’s cancer scare and the pandemic, which made reunions difficult.

The night before taking their latest photo, the men gathered to feast on “Wedge” tacos, which Wardlaw makes by stuffing meat into hard taco shells and pan frying them so hot he wears safety glasses and a glove to protect against splatter.

The five friends in 1987
Instagram | 1987

The five men sat in the same order on Wednesdays, striking the same poses since 1982. This was to honor a tradition that began 40 year ago.

Burney’s right hand rests inside his right knee. A hat perches on Rumer-Cleary’s knee or lap. Molony is holding a jar in his left hand.

In the original photo, the jar contains a cockroach they caught near the cabin, a butterscotch candy (roach food), and a cut-out photo of actor Robert Young from a coffee advertisement to keep the insect “company.”

five men sitting on a deck railing
Instagram | 1990

A few photos ago, some of the group wore the same clothes to keep the photos as accurate as possible.

Rumer-Cleary was a software engineer who cofounded Occam Networks. Rumer-Cleary said that sometimes strangers would stop him.

“It’s happened to me for a couple reasons,” he said. “I’m 6-foot-6 and I have facial hair. They won’t pick it out right off the bat. ‘You look familiar, I can’t tell why.’”

The photo was taken by the friends, all of whom graduated from Santa Barbara High School when they were 19. They used an automatic camera timer to take the photo.

five men sitting on a table inside a cabin
Instagram | 2007

The Copco Lake cabin where their reunions happen was built by Wardlaw’s grandfather in 1970.

JD was the only person with a 35mm camera during their 1982 trip to the lake. He also suggested that they take group photos.

Wardlaw was able in 1987 to get all five men on a trip to Lake Ontario again. He also suggested the idea of duplicate the first photograph. He has taken all of the photos that follow the first one.

“Once we took it and saw the photo, we said, ‘We should come back and take it in five years.’ I said, ‘We have to vow to do it every five years,’” he told the Santa Barbara News-Press in a 2007 interview.

The five friends in 2012
Instagram | 2012

Dickson is the only person who has stayed in Santa Barbara. He also runs a tourism website.

Molony is an American photographer based in New Orleans. Wardlaw, a filmmaker/photographer based in Bend Oregon, is the author.

Rumer-Cleary is now retired and lives in Portland. Burney, a retired Air Force veteran, will enter his 23rd season of teaching in the Fall in Northern California.

At the time of the 2012 picture, only two were married. The 2017 photo shows that all of them were married and JD had already had a child.

five men sitting on a deck railing
Instagram | 2017

Wardlaw responded that they have a number of ideas about how long they want to take the photo.

“When the story went viral in 2012 we were asked this question quite often. So we began to think. We might still opt for the blank space.”

“We thought an Urn might be funny, since we have a sense of humor about it,” he wrote on their website. “Another option is that we each have a mug with our nickname one it,” Wardlaw added.

“The mug for that person could be placed in the blank space. What about a cut-out cardboard? There are plenty of ideas but the real answer is we will keep taking the photo.”

five men sitting on a deck railing
Instagram| 2022

“We will keep taking it until there is no one left and then hopefully someone, perhaps John Dicksons’ son will take a photo of an empty deck railing where we once sat.”

These guys are extremely lucky to have such strong friendships! If you’d like updates on the “Five Year Photo Project,” you can visit their website or follow them on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

The group shared their story with the Today Show in August 2012. Here’s how it went down.

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