Picks and Pans Review: A Day in the Life of the Soviet Union
by Rick Smolan and David Cohen
This is the sixth in a series of coffee-table books (following volumes on Australia, Japan, the United States, Canada and Hawaii) that have become media extravaganzas. Orchestrated by photographer Smolan and editor Cohen, 100 of the world's "leading photo-journalists" are turned loose throughout a country for 24 hours to capture—if they can—a portrait of everyday life. On May 15, 1987, 50 Western and 50 Soviet-bloc photographers were spread out across the 11 time zones of the Soviet Union to produce extraordinary photographs of ordinary events. Their assignments included places previously off limits to Western journalists—a prison, military schools, a nuclear power plant. Despite that access, however, the book too often stops at the superficial—medal-bedecked veterans of WW II, women cleaning streets, Lenin's omnipresent image. The text often reiterates clichés and delivers social commentary that seems out of place in this photographic showcase. (A picture of two Murmansk women office workers sharing a joke is captioned, "Most Soviet offices lack computer terminals, photocopiers and other electronic gadgets without which the average American workplace would collapse.") There are memorable photographs: American Neal Slavin's images of Moscow's public baths; Czech Oleg Homola's picture of a little girl playing on a sandpile at a construction site; and Soviet Marina Yurchenko's misty portrait of the isolated Pyukhta Convent in Estonia. More pictures like these, conveying a sense of the texture and diversity of daily life in this remarkable country, would have given this book much greater impact. (Collins, $39.95)
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