AFTER THE TABLE is cleared and the cognac begins to flow, photojournalists whose paths have crossed in distant lands tell stories long into the night. They talk about dangerous border crossings and magazine day rates, dream assignments and absent friends. Quality of light is a topic that can always drain a decanter. “Nothing compares to the honey glow of Durbar Square at dusk,” a shooter partial to Katmandu will proclaim. “What about that bluish pewter mist that comes alive over Hanoi’s Hoan Kien lake each morning at dawn?” another photographer just back from Vietnam might counter.
Eventually, talk turns to Rick Smolan, a Time-magazine-photographer-turned-publishing-executive, and his series of “Day in the Life” photography books. For photographers, an invitation to participate in a “Day in the Life” project is tantamount to making photojournalism’s Olympic team. The assignment is not only a recognition of professional status but also an opportunity to test one’s luck, creativity and stamina against other photojournalists over the course of a 24-hour day.
Late last April, 100 of the world’s best photographers were flown to San Francisco by Collins Publishers to prepare for Smolan’s eighth book, “A Day in the Life of California.” Why California? asked photojournalists who had worked on Smolan’s projects in Australia, Japan and the Soviet Union. “California is America’s future,” Smolan replied. “To see where California is today is to know where America will be heading tomorrow.”
Though all photographers had specific assignments in designated areas, they were free to improvise or rearrange the schedule if they found better pictures or were involved in breaking news stories. The two basic rules: All pictures were to be shot on April 29, 1988, and, Smolan’s final admonishment, “Take extraordinary photographs of ordinary, everyday events.”
The photographs presented here, shown as the day progressed, were selected from nearly 300 images appearing in the book (available Nov. 1). Each could have been taken on almost any day. Together they form part of a larger mosaic that is California.