Jumpingboy takes a yearlong leap of fame

On one of the last days of 2005 Aaron Freedman ’12 and his father were in the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass. with his grandparents and the rest of a disposable camera roll to use up. Full of energy, Freedman jumped around the galleries and his father pointed and shot, finishing up the film. Inspired by this idea of sticking with one project for an entire year, the pair set out on a yearlong jumping photo shoot beginning on New Year’s Day. Jumpingboy was born.

The project was simple in theory: Freedman’s dad would snap a picture of him jumping up in the air once a day for a year. At the end of the day, the pair would choose their favorite shot and upload it onto the online photo share Web site.

Freedman’s father, a graphic designer who works from home, scouted out new locales for their shoots with scenes ranging from an excellent view of the expansive sunset and an intricate spider web in a field. When it came time to make the photo happen, the pair worked together to decide on how all the elements would fit together. “I wasn’t just a subject of an artist’s drawing,” Freedman said. “It was very collaborative.”

A lot of what is so compelling about the year of magical photos is their sheer diversity. The shape of Freedman’s body contorts differently everyday, as does the camera angle. There are pictures of Freedman leaping catlike in the reflection of a pair of sunglasses, and then dive-bomb jumping on a wet deck against a rainbow in the background. “I became a photographic element,” he said. “It was very acrobatic and dancer-like.”

The collection even includes variations on holiday themes: there is a picture of Freedman jumping up with knife and fork in hand over Thanksgiving dinner, and one where he is midair surrounded by plastic Easter eggs. The Sept. 11 photo departs from the usual upbeat feeling as Freedman jumps behind two gravestones that cast Twin-Tower-like shadows over the grass.

Each month a few of the shots are silhouettes of the airborne Freedman – a distinct shadow of his arm lifting a basketball into a hoop or a distorted profile of his body against the side of a yellow aluminum-siding house, his arms pointing at deliberate angles as if casting a spell.

The project morphed into a megalopolis of a photo scheme. With each passing day, the father-son pair got trickier and more daring, becoming more invested in photo technology on their Canon PowerShot A70 and the art of jumping well. By December there were photos in which the pair achieved the illusion that Freedman was actually roundhouse kicking his identical twin in the stomach by using an extended exposure and separate flashes.

While the art of the photos increases incrementally over the year, the collection never loses its feeling that it is capturing the life of a teenage boy. Freedman explained that there were many days in which there wasn’t time to design something spectacular, so he just jumped and his dad just shot. One November shot near the end of the project exhibits the quintessence of an overcommitted high school sophomore: Freedman leaps simply into the air carrying two instrument cases, a sports bag, his book bag and a yellow satchel emblazoned, it appears, with the Jumpingboy logo – Aaron’s black silhouette leaping outwards. There’s nothing special about the photo except that it is what life looks like.

That yellow Jumpingboy bag also expresses the fame that Freedman’s project garnered him even while it was still going on. Visitors to the photo share site Zoto were at first only relatives who would log on each day to see the new pic. Word soon spread and Jumpingboy started getting fans and requests for schwag from strangers as far away as England and South Africa. There are t-shirts up on cafepress.com and a “The Year of Jumpingboy” poster, which shows every one of the 365 photos, is for sale on the jumpingboy.com Web site. One also hangs in Freedman’s Williams B common room.

The only injury Freedman sustained from his year of leaps was on a day he attempted and failed to rocket from a ladder over a tall lemonade stand. “When I woke up, my first thought was, ‘I didn’t make it!’” he said. “The picture of that day is me jumping in front of the emergency room.” The real amazement of the grievance was that the photo from the previous day had been Freedman jumping beside a blinking caution sign that eerily predicted the next day’s events.

The project’s renown, as well as the fact that it is now two years behind him, makes Freedman somewhat detached from the boy who spent 2006 in front of a camera, four feet off the ground. This is compounded by the fact that he looks unusually young. Freedman is a self-titled late bloomer, and the photos tell the tale. “Looking at pictures from sophomore year, I look like I’m nine,” he said.

Freedman took a long break from jumping photos once the year was out, but he has picked up the pursuit again with less stringent terms. Now, he takes a jumping photo when there is a new scene or moment to explore. “We still do it when we have a good location,” he said. There are new jumping shots from trips to Spain and Nova Scotia as well as a road trip from Phoenix back home to Massachusetts.

For now, be on the lookout for a guy with a camera and an acrobatic edge because once Freedman gets inspired, Williamstown will be next.