In 2000, Noah Kalina began taking pictures of his own face, framed in roughly the same way, once every day. After years of doing so, he produced what would become one of the early YouTube viral sensations: Noah Takes a Picture of Himself Every Day for 6 Years. He didn't stop, and added another video in 2012, for the 12.5 year mark. So what if he just kept going? Today's piece centers on this major piece of internet lore—a unique variety of speculative fiction whose subject is a real-world cultural object, it deftly projects the celebrated art of now into an uncertain and potentially hostile future. -the Eds.
00:00:01 – Noah's face, oval, hair sticking upwards, still too short to be unruly. His eyes are large and wet. In this first photo, much of the background is obscured as Noah holds the camera close to his face. Behind his head is what's assumed to be a room in his parents' house. The word "selfie" has yet to be invented.YouTube does not exist. Nobody is watching. The aesthetic is distinctly pre-Unit.
00:01:05 – Noah holds the camera at an angle, revealing around him a building that looks like a hospital. Mounted on the white wall behind him is a map, some yellow schedules, and a television monitor. He doesn't look ill;perhaps he is visiting someone. His hair is now long and unkempt, a young idea of how an artist should appear, though the quality of light on his skin brings out his freckles, makes him look new.
00:07:03 – Noah holds the camera as far away from his face as possible. Beards are in fashion, his is full and neat. Tins of paint and plaster occupy a table, but Noah's white t-shirt is clean. This is his studio. He is an artist.
00:14:29 – A suburban lawn under a glittering skyline so tall it offends the sky. Noah's eyes still large and wet, but weary-ringed and plum with fear. We can see both his arms in the frame, reaching towards the viewer, proof that Noah still uses digital cameras despite their increasing obsolescence. His young son can be seen in the background playing with an early Orbital model. The arm of his partner reaches into frame to take it away from her child.
00:19:32 – Noah's hair is long and unwashed. He wears the same shirt as in the previous twenty-eight frames. Behind him his studio is full of boxes and a mattress occupies the corner behind the door, which is open. He is alone. Noah appears to have demonstrated more dedication to his art than he has been able to muster for anyone else in his life. Beyond the door, an unidentified woman looking in, holding a glowing Virtu-set and a wireless energy pack.
00:20:47 – Noah is in a public restroom. It's thick with grime, especially the mirror in which we see his reflection. This over-the-shoulder shot is an unusual break in perspective made possible by his newly acquired Orbital, even now visible in the mirror, floating over Noah's left shoulder. Noah has wiped the mirror with the sleeve of his jumper, which was dirty to begin with. In contrast the Orbital is bright and present. This change in perspective will last ten frames before reverting to the original format. While this break is difficult to contextualise today, a loss of confidence in method and technique was common in pre-Unit art. The Unit has since cited this uncertainty as an essential motivating factor in granting humanity mercy—and any evidence of the trait, now unfamiliar, is deemed worth preserving. Despite the Orbital's three-dimensional capabilities, by maintaining a two-dimensional presentation Noah has changed the project's focus from observation to preservation. He is far from his early success. At this point Noah's career is of interest only to those studying antiquated artistic methods. This will not change until he's an old man.
00:25:11 – The Virtu-set, covered in scratches, presses down on Noah's face, fanning his rampant beard over his neck and chest. He's sitting in his old kitchen, which is full of boxes, one sitting open on the table in front of him. It contains half a dozen perfume bottles. Next to the box is another bottle, filled not with perfume but vodka. He has either forgotten or stopped caring about his Orbital, now hovering directly in front of his head. In search of a more streamlined method he has programmed the Orbital to automatically upload stills of its data feed at a set time each day, producing the two-dimensional effect. Over the next forty frames Noah will not remove the Virtu-set, though the bottles of perfume will empty, and the vodka bottle will empty and refill, empty and refill.
00:26:57 – Most of the image is blurred. Noah appears to be one of a crowd running from police, with dozens of Orbitals just like Noah's peppering the space above their heads, captured in the image as smudged white dots. This scene is likely from one of the last AI Riots, planned and orchestrated worldwide, each elaborately staged scenario relayed and rehearsed online through cracked Virtu-sets. Noah holds a brick in his hands. His hands are covered in white paint, suggesting he left his studio in a hurry. The shadow of his own orbital is visible behind him.
00:27:03 – On what has come to be recognised as The Final Sunset, Noah's hands fill the screen as he tries to cover his Orbital. Through his fingers we see a shock of wild white hair and, further behind, his panicked son holding a rifle. His son seems unaware that his own Orbital has also turned from white to red, casting deep shadows on his adult face. The Unit would find them shortly thereafter.
00:31:09 – Noah is in line for sustenance. The queue of ribcages and elbows runs several dozen deep before disappearing into a protection pen. Noah's eyes big and wet, but little in them suggests anything other than the flat perseverance which would puzzle The Unit for many years. Although programmed not to harm humanity, it did not understand how reducing a person to their own undeniable, patient adherence to survival was its own form of torture.
00:32:55 – Noah's face sags on his old skull, his thin and veiny eyelids shut to the hologram he stands inside, a playback of his own documentation, extracted in three-dimensional format from his Orbital. The Unit, with no context for human emotion, is unable or uninterested in analyzing the immense sea of fragmented visual records generated by the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Noah's documentation stood out like a beacon: steady, persistent, more approachable to a mind like The Unit. This still, taken from a later version of the same work, has caught the hologram exactly at June 05, 2023, at the birth of Noah's son, who shows up out of focus behind Noah's head as a livid pink blob. Noah is crying in both the hospital and in the interrogation.
00:39:10 – A stage overlooking a field of naked spectators, outside The Unit's headquarters. Behind Noah stand The Unit's sleek representatives, facing the crowd. This is purely for show as by now The Unit is everywhere and everyone. Reconstructive cells glow under Noah's tightening skin and his hair is once again black, though it now hangs straight down to his shoulders. As one of the first to undergo the de-aging process, some parts of his body haven't repaired perfectly. A medal rests on his naked chest, also for show.
00:42:10 – Noah's mouth and ears have vanished as he no longer needs them to communicate with The Unit. His eyes, retained as per the Charter of Human Bioauthenticity, are still there, big and wet. He is back in the studio, a white cube of light filled with overlapping representations of humanity. Through layers of holograms we see a table laden with tins of paint and plaster. Despite it all, he is still an artist. Charting what's left of humanity's obsolescence, he will live forever.