24 Hour Project co-founder reflects on 2015 global photo event, looks ahead

Co-creator of the 24 Hour Project reflects on the 2015 global photography event

Last Saturday, 2,030 registered photographers from 101 countries participated in the fourth annual 24 Hour Project, a worldwide interactive, online event.

Photographers -- including one of the project's co-creators, Sam Smotherman, a frequent Southern California Moments contributor -- roamed the streets on March 21 and published a photo every hour for 24 hours. They posted their snapshots in real time to Instagram, the popular online photo-sharing service that allows users to simultaneously post on other social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Flickr.

The project's theme has remained the same since its conception in 2011: to capture “the essence and complexity of the human condition.” So, every hour, images filtered in from 650 cities around the world, including pictures documenting Albuquerque nightlife and the early morning hustle of a Hong Kong fish market as well as a father and daughter sitting together as they sell flowers on a Tehran street.

“We wanted to see the differences throughout the world, but also the blending and mixing of ethnicities within a single city,” said Smotherman, a developmental disabilities social worker. “Street photography highlights [human nature] by capturing the unplanned but not unnoticed.”

A few years ago, Smotherman shared his rough idea with fellow co-creator Renzo Grande, a Web projects manager whose photography Smotherman admired and followed on Instagram. The two began collaborating.

In the event’s first year, the duo invited 65 mobile photographers whose work they were familiar with to compare and contrast the West and East coasts of the United States. It received good feedback, evolved accordingly, and since then has been open to the public.

As time-consuming as orchestrating the project was, the co-creators say it doesn’t quite compare to participating in it.

Below, Smotherman talks to the Los Angeles Times about his grueling but rewarding experience last weekend in the City of Angels and dishes about next year’s project.  

Tell us a bit about your personal game plan for photographing a city on foot for an entire day.

The game plan was to drive, at least between shooting locations. My personal plan was late in the making and changed halfway through. I had some folks who were supposed to come with me, but life got in the way, so I had to go solo. This year, I stopped a lot more. Once I got the shot I liked, I would go and rest. In the years prior, I would keep pushing for that next photo.

What about Los Angeles lends itself to shooting for 24 hours? What about the city does not?

Los Angeles' size really allows you to shoot anything you want. Its problem is also its size. The things you want to shoot may not be reachable on 24 one-hour deadlines. I found this out the first year I did the project when I went from downtown Los Angeles to Hollywood, to Manhattan Beach, to South L.A., back to downtown, and then the Eastside. Way too much driving. This year I was able to keep driving to a minimum and therefore keep my sanity.

What are the 'kinds of moments' you capture shooting all 24 hours in the day versus just during conventional hours?

During conventional hours, you have all kinds of life. But the late night and early morning are much more narrow than that. It only has the nightlife and what all that entails, so finding variety is difficult. But it also can bring out the emotions of the human condition in a much more concentrated way. The tears flow more easily past midnight. The smiles are broadened with the help of alcohol. The arguments come quicker and are more intense.

How has your relationship with the city evolved through this project?

My understanding and experience of the city has grown as I’ve started to plan and explore new parts while thinking about how they fit within the 24 Hour Project. I don’t want to shoot the same places, although downtown L.A. is always going to be a hub. I’ve also thought about the traveling done between the smaller neighborhoods, which are a part of the journey as opposed to just a destination. For example, my first picture of this year's project was taken on my way to downtown. So I’ve been looking to document the transition and commute in the project rather than treating the city as the center from which to start from.

What was the hardest and/or easiest part of shooting 24 consecutive hours?

This year, the hardest part for me was leaving my house. I was tired. Work was longer than normal on the Friday before. The folks who said they were willing to go with me got caught up with life and so I left to go alone. So even starting the project was difficult for me. Other than that though, it was good. I took more breaks throughout the day and tried not to walk as much. I had two short naps which were helpful, one which was on the hardwood floor of the Perfect Exposure Gallery and much more comfortable than sleeping in my car.

Any techniques, methods that proved helpful in shooting?

As I mentioned before, walking less and respecting a good shoot was helpful in taking pressure off of myself and my feet. It allowed me to rest up for the next deadline and prepare to get a good photo early in the hour. This also allowed me to take shoots because I wanted to, not because I had to.

Can you tell us what's in store for the 24 Hour Project in 2016?

Right now all I can say is that it will be around the same time of year (we might get crazy and do a second one in 2015) and we are in the works with galleries in Italy, Portugal and Mexico for shows. For the most up-to-date information, please follow the @24hourproject [on Twitter].

Follow Trishna Patel on Instagram and Twitter.

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