I stumbled across this series in a thrift store and picked up a couple because I love photojournalism and concept books like this. The Day in the Life series was apparently a big hit in the late 1980s/early 1990s, which passed me by completely somehow (in fairness to myself, I was either not born or a baby during this time). For each book, they would send a bunch of the world’s top photojournalists, as well as the best photographers from the host country, out on assignment for one day. All of the photos in the book are from one singular day, structured from the morning until the night and loosely by subject (for example, a spread about weddings or hospitals). As stated, I am a sucker for a big concept like this and a large part of my enjoyment in reading these was learning about the logistics in the Afterwards. At a time when everyone was shooting on film, coordinating thousands of rolls of film after the shooting day was done and then getting them all developed was a huge logistical challenge, along with getting all the photographers, assistants, local guides, etc, to their desired locations by the beginning of the shooting day. In geographically far-flung countries like the Soviet Union and China, this was clearly a huge challenge, compounded by their being some of the first unfettered Western journalists allowed into both countries.
Another big plus of these books is that all three were shot on what turned out to be historically important days and times. China was shot on the day that the students started gathering in Tiananmen Square, Israel on the day that the PLO Accords were signed, and Soviet Union when glasnost had begun but the country had not started splitting up. All of these are such pivotal moments and it’s fascinating to see them portrayed here, along with the day to day events that make up life. Especially striking to me were also the workaday scenes of people just living their lives, and our shared humanity. That was a stated aim of these books, and it’s somewhat depressing looking back at this cheerful early 1990s liberal vision of increased democracy and openness from a 2024 standpoint of knowing what was to come. Very thought provoking reading and with a ton of amazing photographs from world-class photographers, at a time when news magazines could afford to support them. I was happy to see Carol Guzy and Mary Ellen Mark here, two of my all-time favorites. It made me sad to think about how these books are basically impossible now because of how much they cost and how companies like Kodak are gone and can’t sponsor them anymore (Soviet Union cost $4 million — what publisher and company sponsors could cover that now?).