Last month, 900 photographers from 72 countries participated in the third annual worldwide interactive, online event called The 24 Hour Project. Photographers — including the project’s creators, Sam Smotherman and Renzo Grande — roamed the streets March 22 and published one photo every hour for 24 hours. They posted their snapshots in real time to Instagram, the online photo-sharing service that allows users to simultaneously post on other social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Flickr.
This year the theme was to try to capture “the essence and complexity of the human condition.” So every hour, images filtered in from 312 cities around the world, catching the hustle and bustle of New York City’s Fifth Avenue, small children running in the streets of Isfahan, Iran, and the electric buzz of Tokyo’s nightlife.
“We wanted to see the differences throughout the world, but also the blending and mixing of ethnicities within a single city,” said Smotherman, a developmental disabilities social worker. “Street photography highlights [human nature] by capturing the unplanned but not unnoticed.”
In 2011, Smotherman shared his rough idea with Grande, a Web projects manager, whose photography he admired and followed on Instagram. The two began collaborating.
The event’s first year, the duo invited 65 mobile photographers, whose work they were familiar with, to compare and contrast the West and East Coasts of the United States. It received good feedback, evolved globally, and since then has been open to the public.
As time-consuming as orchestrating the project was, the co-creators say it doesn’t quite compare to participating in it. Smotherman and Grande, who documented San Francisco and New York City respectively for 24 consecutive hours, talk about the rewarding but often grueling experience as well dish the date for next year’s project.
Tell me a bit about your personal game plan for photographing a city on foot for an entire day.
Smotherman: This year it was my first time shooting outside of Los Angeles. I was invited up to San Francisco as a challenge to shoot in a new city. Surprisingly, I walked the most this year by far. We [my friends and I] made a general plan of areas we wanted to shoot and the best times to be at each location. We didn’t always hit our targets and made changes along the way, but we got the areas we wanted.
Grande: After making sure all the participants had all the information for their project to go smoothly, I was already tired even before hitting the streets at midnight. I did not know which exact locations I wanted to document. Friends also joined me and cheered me on for a couple of hours here and there, which made a whole [lot of] difference.
Living the multiple human conditions myself as I went through each hour of the day [tired, excited, distraught], I believe helped me relate to the streets even more. It gave me the opportunity to capture what I was experiencing on the streets.
What was the hardest part of shooting 24 consecutive hours? What was easier than you thought?
Smotherman: The hardest part is the various walls you hit physically and emotionally. They’ve been at different times each year. This year I dozed off in the car (I wasn’t driving) around 7 a.m. I also fell asleep waiting for a meal for about five minutes. I was pretty exhausted from about 5 to 8 p.m. but caught a sixth or seventh wind after that and felt pretty ready for the night.
Grande: The shifts of weather in New York City made it harder this year during the dark hours. By the 16th hour (afternoon), things got surprisingly easier because of shooting partners and friends (@omarzrobles/@shelserkin) who came along and injected me with extra energy.
Any techniques, methods that proved helpful in shooting?
Smotherman: When it was dark, I looked for good light sources and composed a decent shot around that. I also tried to take pictures that expressed how I was feeling at the moment or made me think about the project — this was especially true during the later hours. Having a shooting partner (@vladatat) and supportive people around (@travisjensen/@rastadave52) was a huge part of any success I had this year.
Grande: As Sam mentioned, light is the camera’s best friend. Tons of memory storage, good extra battery sources and comfortable shoes made the experience more pleasant, as I only had to think about shooting.
Did all 900 of the participating photographers complete the 24-hour stretch? If not, are there statistics you can provide detailing the reasons why?
Grande: Of all participants, 60% shot for the 24 hours and 40% shot partially (meaning they shared more than 12 images but could not document the entire day).
Please note that the partial participants also came from countries which are not stable at the moment or do not provide the necessary securities for our participants to be walking during dark hours. This is the case of Venezuela, Nairobi, Kenya and Belgrade, Serbia, among others. They came forward and asked us if they could still participate knowing they wouldn’t be able to complete the full day.
I was also surprised to see cities such as Cairo and Cluj-Napoca, Romania, involved this year. Our project’s mission is to provide a way for local photographers to document any city, but their security and well-being came first.
Of the 900 participants, 38% were from Europe, 28% were from North America, and 17% were from Asia compared to 4% from South America and 2% from Africa.
Tell us what you can about The 24 Hour Project in 2015.
Grande: Next year’s date will be March 21, 2015. Again, folks can visit the website to keep up with the latest news. We might change things up a little as we try to improve the project.