Dozens of well-known photographers earlier this year set out to take a snapshot of Africa. From Casablanca to Cape of Good Hope, they documented an ordinary day in the life of the continent. Their photographs are now on display at New York City's Grand Central railway terminal.
"I went to the Kalahari Desert." "I went to Somaliland." "I chose to go to Aswan in Egypt." "I went to Equatorial Guinea." "I went to Chad."
On February 28, 2002, 100 photographers fanned out across 53 African countries to create a photographic mosaic of Africa. The result is an array of vivid photographs featured in a book and a traveling exhibition called A Day in the Life of Africa.
David Cohen is the project director for A Day in the Life of Africa. He says the idea for the project came to him almost two years ago while he was looking at the cover of a news magazine about AIDS in Africa that read "Look at the pictures, read the text, and try not to care." Mr. Cohen cared, and did something to help. "I thought that there's a holocaust going on in Africa right now that 15 million people have died, that 10 million more will die in the next five years unless something is done, and I thought the thing to do would be to make a great book about Africa and then use the proceeds from the book to fund AIDS education programs in Africa," said David Cohen.
From the book came a 150-photograph exhibition, with a video film, that opens in New York and then travels to major U.S. cities including Atlanta, Washington D.C., and Chicago. Constantin Boym designed the 1,100-square-meter exhibition to evoke a traditional African village. He says the structural design was the easy part. "There are seven clusters here of different photos, separated thematically," said Constantin Boym. "Some talk about work, some talk about leisure, some represent family and friends, city and country. The main challenge was not to select the photographs but rather to transmit the energy of this entire project."
From Madagascar, where rice is grown on every piece of flat ground that can be irrigated, there is photo of a rice harvester dressed in white. From Angola, a photo of a boy throwing a basketball into a hoop held on a bullet-ridden backboard.
South African photographer Louise Gubb was the Assignments Editor for the book. She stayed in Johannesburg on February 28 to photograph her own city. Ms. Gubb says she saw Johannesburg in a different light. "I shot the new up-and-coming black middle class empowerment, the new South Africa, and I learnt a lot from it because I was photographing people who have benefited from the new order in South Africa," she said.
She photographed actors in a play retelling William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in a fictitious African state.
Project director David Cohen says the everyday and the ordinary in Africa is not often seen in the news. "It raises Africa's profile, and I think it does it in a very good way," he said. "Africans are always depicted in the media as victims victims of corruption, victims of warfare, victims of famine and disease. And here we show the 80 percent of Africans who aren't living in those circumstances people going to school, people going to work."
All profits from the book will go to A Day in the Life of Africa AIDS Education Fund set up to help combat the spread of the deadly virus.