- The Washington Times - Monday, December 15, 2003

One week in America is permanently recorded for posterity, courtesy of hundreds of photographers whose work is collected in a new book.

“America 24/7” captures the faces and places of the nation during the week of May 12-18 this year, as seen through the lenses of photographers in all 50 states and the District.

The book is intended to be a “time capsule,” explained Rick Smolan, co-director with David Elliot Cohen of the project.

“We’ve been doing large-scale photographic projects around the world for about 20 years now,” Mr. Smolan said. “In the past, we’ve dispatched 100 of the world’s best photographers around a country or around a region, or to cover a topic.

“This time we decided to do something different. We still dispatched 1,000 professional photographers, and they were all armed with Olympus digital cameras. But in addition, for the first time, we opened the project up to anyone in America who had a digital camera. The goal of the project was to create a digital time capsule of what life in America is really like.”

During the weeklong shoot, the project’s photographers captured 1 million images, he said. The finished project includes nearly 1,200 photos — from rush-hour crowds at a metro station in the District to an Arizona chain gang.

But “America 24/7” is merely the beginning of a project that eventually will include a book of photos for every state. “We’ve already done 12 of the 50 state books, and they are fantastic,” Mr. Smolan said.

Mr. Smolan and Mr. Cohen employed 34 top photographic editors to choose photos for the books.

“When they were looking at these images on their computer screens, they had no idea if they were looking at the work of a soccer mom or a Pulitzer-Prize-winning professional photographer,” Mr. Smolan said.

“I think that made a really cool difference to the project. I think it gave a chance for a lot of photographers who’d never been published before. The soccer moms, in some cases, outshot the professionals.”

And the book already is an overwhelming success.

“This thing is just flying out of the stores now,” Mr. Smolan said. “We’re No. 6 on the New York Times list, the only coffee-table book on the list. Oprah [Winfrey] just picked it as her favorite book of the year.”

One popular aspect of the book, Mr. Smolan said, is that each buyer can order a personalized dust jacket with a photo of his own choosing. Nearly 30,000 buyers already have done that.

“I think people responded to the idea that this is not a tourist look at America, it’s not a PR look at America, it’s not a government look at America — this is a nation telling its own story,” Mr. Smolan said. “It’s very unusual I think.”

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