A photo tradition has helped five men maintain their friendship for 30 years
The first shot was taken in 1982 during a summer lake trip
Hairstyles have changed and shirts have appeared over the years
"We plan on doing this for the rest of our lives, no matter what," one says
When five teenagers sat down and posed for a picture at Copco Lake in 1982, they didn’t plan on making it a tradition. But that’s what it became.
Every five years for the past three decades, John Wardlaw, John Dickson, Mark Rumer, Dallas Burney and John Molony have been meeting at the California lake and taking the same photo.
The first photograph of the high school friends was just happenstance. Wardlaw, known as Wedge in the group, had a family cabin at the lake where the friends gathered in July 1982.
While hanging out on the deck of the cabin, Dickson, or J.D., set his 35-millimeter camera on self-timer to take a group photo.
“For some reason, we all chose to have dark and mysterious expressions on our faces,” said Wardlaw. “I’m sure we all thought we were being really cool.”
Though they tried a couple of poses, the one that would eventually win as the official vacation photo depicts the five teens, three of them shirtless, with shaggy hair typical of the time. They were about 19 years old.
Molony, known in the group as Belves, is pictured holding a Folgers Instant Coffee jar, which contained a cockroach the guys had decided to keep as a pet. They fed their new friend with a piece of butterscotch candy and kept it company with a photograph of Robert Young.
“Priorities were so different back then. All I was really thinking about was summer and girls,” said Wardlaw.
As the men went into their college years, they continued to return to the lake every summer. They spent their time fishing and reading and playing roles in homemade movies shot by Wardlaw, who is now a filmmaker.
“We’re all very creative people, so we would take all of our creative energy and focus it into a certain direction,” said Molony. “It wasn’t, ‘Let’s all get together and get drunk.’ It was, ‘Let’s get together and see who can make the funniest joke or pull off the sneakiest prank.’”
The men never drank on the trip. It has always been good, clean fun.
At least fairly clean: One year Wardlaw turned on the water to take a shower, and it was running brown. He removed the shower head to find a beef bullion cube.
“When I went back to the living room, the guys were all chuckling and I said something like ‘beefy goodness’ and they all exploded with laughter,” he said.
But it wasn’t until five summers later when Wardlaw, a photography enthusiast, decided it would be fun to recreate the photograph they’d taken in ’82.
In 1987, the now college-educated men sat in the same position on the same bench, again with a self-timed camera. The jar, a different one this time, contained no cockroach, and the hat held by Wardlaw was different as well. The expressions however, were unchanged.
“I think I had a feeling this might become some cool tradition, but I had no idea we would still be doing it for 30 years,” said Wardlaw.
In 1997, 15 years after the original photo, the men, then in their mid-30s, decided to solidify the photo as a tradition they would continue every five years for the rest of their lives.
As the ritual became more concrete and when digital cameras were introduced, the group became more picky over the details of the photo, going as far as to wear the same clothes, and designate an official jar and hat as props. Hairstyles have changed over the years and with the march of time they abandoned the bare-chested motif.