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Creative Inspirations: Rick Smolan, Photographer
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Publishing portfolio


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Creative Inspirations: Rick Smolan, Photographer

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(Music plays.) One of the things that's been really gratifying about these projects is that by inviting the world's best photographers and the best writers and designers and Photoshop experts and lot of different creative teams, everybody has this pride of authorship, so when the book comes out or whichever book we are working on, I think every single one of the people that worked on the project feels like if it wasn't for their piece of the puzzle, the book wouldn't be what it is or the project wouldn't be.

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Creative Inspirations: Rick Smolan, Photographer
1h 17m Appropriate for all Jun 29, 2009

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Rick Smolan is responsible for some of the largest photographic projects ever undertaken. A former Time, Life, and National Geographic photographer, Rick created the best-selling Day in the Life book series and many other large-scale photographic projects, such as America 24/7, 24 Hours in Cyberspace, and Blue Planet Run. He pushes the boundaries of technology with each new project while delivering inspiring books that tell masterful photographic stories. His projects have been featured on the covers of magazines such as Fortune, Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report. This installment of Creative Inspirations takes viewers inside Rick's latest production, where he reveals his unique processes and shows how he reinvents himself for each new project.

Subjects:
Photography Creative Inspirations Documentaries
Author:
Rick Smolan

Publishing portfolio

(Music plays.) One of the things that's been really gratifying about these projects is that by inviting the world's best photographers and the best writers and designers and Photoshop experts and lot of different creative teams, everybody has this pride of authorship, so when the book comes out or whichever book we are working on, I think every single one of the people that worked on the project feels like if it wasn't for their piece of the puzzle, the book wouldn't be what it is or the project wouldn't be.

So a lot of the editors from Time and Newsweek and Fortune have worked on our books and the nice side effect of that is when they go back to the editors they say we shouldn't just review this book; we should put it on the cover. So this is like every one of these represents a multi-million dollar ad campaign that we got basically because people feel it's a great product and they help make that into a great product. The very first book we did was A Day in the Life of Australia, which is like your first child. You always have some sort of a special relation with it and every once in while I pick it up and one of the things I actually love about this book is we're trying to figure how to explain to people that you are holding a book which was all shot on one day. We are still trying to solve the problem of how do have readers not pick this up and feel like I bought a book, but get them into the book in some interactive way.

So one day at about 3 o'clock in the morning when we were still trying to finish working on this book and someone had left the mail on my desk and in the mail was a letter that was returned to me to one of the photographers I invited to work on the project. So three months later, it has somehow gone off into the mail system, had the wrong address on it, and it came back and I remember this being literally 3 o'clock in the morning and I ripped it open, I sat down, and I imagined myself being a photographer reading this letter inviting me to come to Australia to work on the book. And now that the book has actually being shot, it's kind of interesting reading the letter written before that book was shot saying what we thought was going to happen and what responsibilities were for the photographers.

So I thought what if put the letter inside the book. Every reader would open up the book and imagine themselves being one of the photographers getting this incredible invitation. We're going to fly you to Australia, we are going to put you with the family, you are going to have an assignment, you are competing against 99 other people. There is no guarantee you got a picture in the book, you might get left out and it's a first time in history that an entire country is being covered on one day like this. And this became sort of our little theme for all the books from then on. It was like one of those completely serendipitous, exhausted, in the middle of the night, what I am still doing here? I was trying to write captions or something like I was doing here two nights ago. It's actually sick that 30 years later I am still solving the same problems or like doing the same thing, but anyway so this is the first book that we did.

We did other books about countries. We did a book called Passage to Vietnam, which was really, really fascinating too. We took 70 photographers to Vietnam and let them loose for a week, so it wasn't just one day. We started experimenting after a while and I was a wondering was it magic that was 'a day in the life of,' was it the one day concept, was it the title, or was it this idea of taking incredibly talented men and women, photographers, writers, journalists, researchers, and putting them under this incredible time restraint? Because I think creative people are adrenaline junkies like me and I think we all work better when we were in over our heads and when we are scared and when we are competing and we haven't slept enough and it's 3 o'clock in the morning.

In almost every single of our books there has been some technology component. Even A Day in Life of Australia, we had Apple computers doing organizational work which again never happened before. A Day in Life of America, which is probably still the bestselling coffee table book ever published. I think it was up to 1.4 million copies. It was the first coffee table ever designed completely on a computer. This book was the first coffee table book, America 24/7. First of all it's 100% digital, which is a first and then in 2003. So done that not long ago, but in 2003 the world was just going digital and people said, you will never get the quality. You never be able to do double-page spreads in a book where the pictures held up, but it did. And then in addition we introduced this concept of letting people upload their own photographs and getting a replacement dust-jacket. So it was child on the cover or your dog or your house or you scanned in your parents wedding from 50 years ago and gave them a wedding gift so here they are in black and white picture on the cover of that book.

A Day in Life of Soviet Union was very satisfying, because the Russians actually let us take all of our film out undeveloped, which was apparently a first. They always insisted that people develop it. And the way we got around that is we actually shot all in Kodachrome and they had no Kodachrome processing in Soviet Union. So at first they were insisting that they develop all the film and inspect all of it. We also gave all of the photographers working on this project a Sony Handycam so that photographers all became our film crews and in many of these projects we paid the photographers with laptops or Apple computers or handycams.

Then this is a book that was the precursor. This is Natasha's Story. This book sort of set the stage for the book we are doing now about Obama, The Obama Time Capsule, [00:05:2.28] is seeing that the quality of a print on demand book starting to rival offset and it's affordable and the quality is good and it's immediate, it's much faster. At first I sort of saw this is a prototype where we'll do this book and I'll show it to publisher and then we will publish a real book, but this sort of became the real book in the course of doing it and like anything it's still in its infancy.

There are still things you would like to do differently and things you you would like to change about it, but it's really remarkable the quality of this book and I think the Obama Time Capsule book is going to be more dramatically that way. I think people would be absolutely shocked to find out that this is a print on demand book. I mean the theme of all these books is using cutting-edge technology tools to put a human face on different topics. So creative storytelling is the top line, but underneath the creative storytelling is all this technology that either helps you tell the story better or it brings you partners like Intel or Apple or Hp, that become our partners in helping tell the world there is such a book and why they should be interested in it.

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