Copco Lake, California (CNN) – The famous photo of five friends taken every five years on the same California lake is on display despite one man recently having a cancer scare.
Some of the guys openly feared that this year it might be a picture of four friends, rather than the five first pictured as teenagers.
“I was crushed,” said John Dickson, who lives in Santa Barbara, where the friends first met. “We were worried that there would be an empty spot on the bench where we would take the picture.”
Dallas Burney, seated at the center of a series of photos that replicate the poses of the very first shot, told CNN that he had a large cancerous tumor removed from his left leg in 2019.
“My cancer is liposarcoma, I knew for many months that something was wrong,” said an elementary school teacher.
“I didn’t go to school for five months. I can’t run anymore, but I can definitely walk.”
Bernie strolled around Copco Lake with ease Tuesday night with Dixon, Mark Rumer-Clery, John Moloney and their host, John “Wedge” Wardlaw.
They haven’t been together since the last photo in 2017. Bernie’s cancer and the pandemic made the reunion difficult.
But first the food
John “Wedge” Wardlaw grills tacos Tuesday night in his hazmat suit.
So they got together the night before the photo was taken for their other five-year tradition, feasting on “Wedge” tacos.
Wardlow stuffs the meat into hard taco casings and fries them so hard in a pan that he wears a glove and goggles to keep out splashes.
The jokes flew.
“Salt is the main ingredient,” laughed Wardlaw.
“We’ll all drink water at midnight,” Moloney said.
“And #@$! Cardiologist,” Rumer-Clery joked.
Two friends with a view from the window got up from their seats.
“Bald Eagle,” they exclaimed.
A majestic bird with a characteristic white head circled over the hut, as if giving the scene pomp and solemnity.
Other animals spotted on Tuesday included lynx, deer and cattle.
Dinner with tacos 2022. Another tradition for five friends.
The friends, often talking quickly to each other, pointed out that Oregon was across the lake.
40 years of tradition
By Wednesday afternoon, it was time for the main event.
They took the last shot on a 79-degree day worthy of the cover of a travel brochure. The five bargained over their posture and froze as the photos clicked on the Nikon D800 camera. They were seated in the same order and in the same positions as they had been on strike since 1982.
Lake Copco, 2022. Left to right: John Wardlaw, Mark Rumer-Clery, Dallas Burney, John Moloney and John Dixon in 2022.
Contributed by John Wardlow
The hat is always kept by Rumer-Clery on her lap or knees. Moloney holds the jar in his right hand. Bernie’s right hand lies inside his right knee.
“It’s nice to be back here and know that cancer is not going to destroy what we do,” Bernie said.
It’s about friendship.
Five guys told CNN they were at a friendship exhibition at a German museum. Their photo was published in Costco magazine.
Once again, their images went viral, circulating on social media sites, where their appearance was both ruthlessly criticized and praised.
“There are some stupid quotes that you would never add to any article,” Wardlaw said.
Five friends have been meeting in the same Copco Lake cabin for four decades.
Contributed by John Wardlow
“There were reviews of (three of us) going shirtless. Some said we looked pretty good and that was bold after 50 years.”
Four friends are 59 years old. Rumer-Clery is 58 years old.
Rumer-Cleary called the attention the photos generated surreal and sometimes says strangers will stop him.
“This happened to me for several reasons,” said the software engineer who founded Occam Networks. “I’m 6ft 6in and I have facial hair. They won’t notice it right away. “You look familiar, I can’t figure out why.”
Back in the beginning
Five friends, all graduates of Santa Barbara High School, took the first photograph in a now familiar pose in their late teens using the camera’s automatic timer in 1982.
Their reunion takes place at the Copco Lake cabin built by Wardlow’s grandfather in 1970.
They fished, hiked, barbecued, picked berries for homemade pies, and played pranks on each other over the years.
Moloney described late-night wall-banging, fireworks thrown into the bedroom in retaliation, and relentless teasing.
Dixon admitted that he nicknamed Wardlow “the wedge” because of his determination of the shape of his friend’s head after the haircut.
“I hated that nickname,” Wardlaw said. – So it’s stuck.
Five friends have taken the same photos in the same pose in the same hut every five years for the past 40 years.
Moloney is a photographer based in New Orleans. Rumer-Clery is retired and lives in Portland, Oregon. Wardlow is a filmmaker and photographer based in Bend, Oregon.
Bernie, an Air Force veteran, begins his 23rd year of teaching in Northern California in the fall.
A cancer survivor does not worry about the future of the photo and his health.
“But I’m really scared to sit on those railings,” Bernie said.
“With age, railings also age. We are getting a little older, heavier. This bench and railing is about 30 feet high. One day I’m afraid to hear them crack.”
Such a conversation led to gallows humor, and Bernie showed a photograph of a tumor taken from his leg,
“It looks like a tee,” Bernie chuckled, referring to the triangular cut of meat popular in Santa Barbara County.
Friends all smiled and almost in unison said: “Well, this does.”
After four decades of jokes and friendship, it’s only fitting that they ridicule the tumor that nearly ruined their photo tradition.