You might not realize it while you’re growing up, but your appearance changes a great deal throughout your life. From childhood to adolescence to adulthood, time has a massive impact on how you look. That’s why this father decided to document his and his son’s age progression through a series of photographs. The man took a picture every year to mark the changes to their bodies, and the transformation is quite something.
Tian Jun is an artist from Guiyang, southwest China. Back in 1986, he became a father when he welcomed his son Tian Li into the world.
Jun’s life was changed by the arrival of his child, with the boy inspiring him to start a new photography project that ended up being several decades in the making.
Jun had the bright idea to snap a picture of him and his son in the same position every year to celebrate the boy’s birthday. Doing this would allow the two of them to see how much Li had changed year after year, and give them something wonderful to look back on in the future.
The project was a simple one, with the photos shot in front of an empty background without any props. The pictures didn’t even contain color, with the images all shot in black and white.
When Jun started his little project, he had no intention of reaching a big audience. All he wanted was to give his son something special to mark every year that he’d been on this Earth. However, as the years went on, people started responding to the father’s work.
They were touched by his loving gesture, and they believed that the photos were a great way to celebrate the boy’s life. If anyone needed proof that Li loved his son, then these photos showed just how deep his affection went.
Anyone wanting to understand what was going on in Jun and Li’s lives won’t glean much from these photos. After all, aside from how much their appearances changed every year, they don’t give much away.
However, it’s not necessary to understand what these two were going through in these pictures to appreciate them. After all, the photos are better admired as a collection rather than individually. They’re designed to celebrate the passing of time for Jun and Li instead of commenting on where they were in their lives.
By the time Li’s fourth birthday came around, he probably knew what to expect from his father. He’d taken a photo on that day every year, and sure enough, he did it again in 1990.
When the father added this new photo to his collection, he no doubt looked back at the other pictures and marveled at how much his son had already changed. Li had grown up a lot since Jun had started his project, and his body was only going to continue to transform as the years progressed.
Another year passed, and Li turned five, giving the father an excuse to pull out his camera again. Jun had changed very little since the previous photo, and he continued to pull the same expression as he stared at the lens.
His son, however, had continued to grow, and that was clear in how the man held him. Year by year, Li was getting that little bit taller and heavier, and eventually, Jun wouldn’t be able to carry him anymore. Fortunately, that day wasn’t on the horizon quite yet.
Although Jun had aimed to take every photo in front of the same blank canvas, the father changed things up for his son’s sixth birthday. Perhaps the family had gone away for Li’s birthday, because the latest photo was taken while they were at the beach.
The black and white filter remained, and the featureless sky formed most of the backdrop. However, the sea was clear to see behind the pair as the duo posed for the project’s seventh photo. The collection had grown quite considerably by this point.
By the following year, things had returned to normal with the annual photograph. The father and son were back to standing in front of an empty backdrop as they posed for the camera. The juvenile excitement of Li’s previous photos had apparently faded as he served a stony expression in the picture.
Although he was only seven, the boy was already starting to look a lot like his father. In a few more years, that resemblance was bound to be even stronger as they continued adding to their collection.
1994 and 1995
With projects like this one, there’s no quick way to the finish line. Even if Jun wanted to get it done as soon as possible, he had no control over the passing of time. The only way to end the project was to call it quits, but the father didn’t want to do that.
He wished to continue his project for as long as possible, so he and Li would have something incredible to look back on. Unfortunately, that just meant a lot of patience on his part.
While a lot of the focus here is on Li’s progression through childhood, Jun’s changes are also notable. Your body never stops transforming, no matter what age you are. So, just because the father’s differences weren’t as noticeable, that didn’t mean he wasn’t also going through a lot of changes.
Years after this photo was taken, he’d be able to look back at it and see how far he’d come since he started the project a decade earlier. Whether that was a good thing depended on how he viewed himself.
1997 and 1998
Every year that Jun and Li posed for their annual photo, the father would always hold his son in his arms. That tradition was upheld in the picture for the boy’s 11th birthday, but it ended the following year.
This may have been because Li was too heavy to carry anymore, or perhaps he was merely tall enough to stand alongside his father. Whatever the reason, it marked another significant change in the boy’s life, and it signaled that he really was growing up. He wasn’t a kid anymore.
Come the following year, Li was definitely tall enough to stand by his dad’s side. The boy – who was now in his teen years – was basically the same height as the man. In just a few years, he’d grown up immensely, and his birthday photo reflected that.
It was clear to see he was slowly morphing into his father, from his size to his body language, and that would continue for many years to come. Of course, he’d always have age on his side when compared to Jun.
2000 and 2001
The duo decided to change tradition again when they took a photo on Li’s 14th birthday. For this picture, the men were joined by a four-legged friend in the form of the family dog. We’re not sure why they decided to bring the animal into the photo, but we’re certainly not upset about their presence.
Li’s 15th birthday also appeared to see the two rock the boat when they swapped their positions in the photograph. Jun stood to the right of his son for the first and only time.
Things were back to normal again come 2002 when Li turned 16. By this point, the teenager was on the verge of adulthood, and the world already saw him as a respectable young man. The fact he’d overtaken his father in height signaled that he truly wasn’t a kid anymore, and it begged the question of when his growth spurt would end.
It’s said that most males cease growing when they hit 16, but it seems Li wanted to tower over his father a little more before he stopped.
2003 and 2004
The height difference between the pair was clear to see in 2003 when they celebrated Li’s 17th birthday. The boy was now several inches taller than his dad, although that wasn’t the only thing notable about the picture.
It seems the blank canvas the men used for their photos had been covered in a bunch of numbers. Apparently, the duo used the outside of their apartment for the images, which perhaps explains why there was suddenly so much graffiti everywhere. Luckily, it was mostly gone by the following year.
The picture the father and son took in 2005 was the first where Li hadn’t been living at home with his family. After turning 18, he’d gone to the Beijing Film Academy to pursue a career as a film director.
Leaving his family behind to follow his dream wasn’t easy, but thankfully, Li still returned home from time to time. That included for his birthday where he continued the tradition of taking photos with his dad. There was no way that college would stop these two from continuing their project.
2006 and 2007
Despite the changes these photos have seen over the years, one thing has always remained constant – the lack of shirts. In every picture, the duo has decided not to wear a top, and there’s a good reason for this.
It’s all down to Li’s birthday being in the summer. Jun opted not to cover himself up in the first photo because it was so hot, and from there, a tradition was born. Even if it were cold outside, the duo would still go shirtless for the sake of continuity.
Although Li was always there for the photos, he apparently didn’t think too deeply about what they represented when he was younger. To the boy, they were just something he and his dad did every year to mark his birthday.
However, as he grew up, he started appreciating the meaning behind the photo collection. Li became grateful that he and his father had something that marked their many years together, and he wasn’t the only one. Millions of people around the world felt the same after the pictures went online.
2009 and 2010
In 2009, Li and Jun took the 24th photo of their project, giving them yet another memory to add to their sizable collection. This was a pretty big year for the father because it was when the man turned 50.
At only 23 years old, Li still had quite a while to wait until he hit that milestone. However, we don’t expect that was something the young man was disappointed about. After all, the following year, he returned to the carefree days of student life when he started graduate school.
Come 2011, Li was now 25 years old and ready to start getting serious with his life. He was halfway to 30, and he wasn’t getting any younger. Even if he wanted to try and hold on to youth, he had to accept that he was now fully in the grips of adulthood.
Luckily, he had the perfect role model to look up to in the form of his father. He knew that if he followed in Jun’s footsteps, everything would turn out just fine for him.
2012 and 2013
2012 was a pretty big year for Li. On his 26th year, he became a husband for the first time. This is an exciting time in any man’s life, and Jun was no doubt proud to watch his son step up to the plate and take his relationship to the next level.
Of course, just because Li was now a married man, that didn’t mean he was too old to take a photo with his dad. The duo continued doing their annual photoshoot, unaware of what was waiting ahead.
The father and son had done such an excellent job of taking a picture every year that it was devastating when 2014 came and went without a photo. Thankfully, there was a good reason for this. It seems Li had his hands full becoming a father.
He’d been so busy looking after his son, Timothy, that he and Jun never got around to the picture. Luckily, things returned to normal the following year when Li introduced his boy to the tradition. Now, the project represents three generations of Tians.