American Bounty | History | Smithsonian
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American Bounty

A new book documents a week in the life of America in all its rich, colorful, contradictory, nostalgic, emotional, heartfelt and, oh yes, exuberant...glory

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For a week this past May, more then 25,000 photographers—amateurs and professionals alike—set out across the United States to document daily life in all its astonishing variety. They'd been enticed by the prospect of contributing to a project led by Rick Smolan and David Elliot Cohen, who created the popular Day in the Life...photography books. This time, said the duo, they wanted to assemble a scrapbook of the whole nation at a certain moment. In the end, dozens of editors culled 25,000 photographs from more than a million. Some 1,200 appear in America 24/7 (DK Publishing). The project, said to be history's largest collaborative photography effort, was also something of an experiment in digital cameras and submitting their work electronically to the project's Web site. "Our decision to make this an all-digital project reflects a critical tipping point in the history of photography," says Smolan. "This is the first year that Americans purchased more digital cameras than film cameras." The editors plan to publish 52 more such books next year, each with photographs taken in one of the 50 states, New York City and Washington, D.C. Though the imaging technology is state of the art, the instructions that Smolan and Cohen gave the photographers were decidedly down-home. "We encouraged them to find a household where they could hang their hats for a week and record the texture of modern family life," Smolan says. The resulting photographers portray an America both new and familiar, exotic and sublimely ordinary. They tug at your sense of what the nation was, is still and what it may become. Somehow, they're enough to make you nostalgic and hopeful at the same time.

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