Interviewed by John Papageorge
Story by Chris Borris
Rick Smolan has had his day. Or several of them. During the early 1980s the former National Geographic photographer carved a niche for himself in the publishing industry with his A Day in the Life book series -- coffee table giants packed with photographs that aimed to convey both diversity and universality. More recently his Sausalito, Calif.-based company, Against All Odds, has dipped into multimedia, publishing CD-ROMs that combine photography, audio and video. But it's only with his latest project, 24 Hours in Cyberspace, that all of Smolan's interests have truly converged.
Sponsored by Sun Microsystems, Adobe Systems and Eastman Kodak, 24 Hours is the largest one-day online event to date. The Web site illustrates both pictorially and textually how people around the world -- from Burmese political exiles in Thailand to children researching family history in Iceland -- are using the Internet. The photo end of the project, undertaken by 1,000 of the world's top photographers, was literally done in one 24-hour period.
Smolan jokes that his 24 Hours collaborator Tom Melcher considered calling the project "Webstock." But Smolan does admit that his basic intent was to create community and capture the human face of the online revolution. "I think most people are looking for the same things, which are a sense of community, a sense of accomplishment. The Internet represents an opportunity for people [to get those]."
While some maintain that the Internet revolution has failed to reach society's underclass, on one level Smolan sees the Web as the great equalizer: "The thing that's so cool about the Web is that creative people can compete without having to be Rupert Murdoch. I think it's one of the first times in the history of publishing where the playing field has been level."
Smolan's media cohorts embraced his previous projects, and their response to 24 Hours has been similarly enthusiastic. That's due in part to Smolan's talent for networking -- a quality that helped him garner sponsorship from Sun, Adobe and Kodak, as well as pull in top editors, photojournalists and writers. The photojournalist turned publishing impresario has variously been described as impassioned, irrepressible and audacious -- all good qualities when it comes to convincing people to climb on board a project that seems, well, almost absurd. Or, at the very least, against all odds.
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