The Making of: A Passage to Vietnam

by Global Directions Inc., Oct 1, 1994 | Destinations: Vietnam / Hanoi

The logistics of organizing seventy photographers in a country that strictly regulates traveling is no small undertaking. However, Rick Smolan, the creator of the "Day in the Life" book series successfully navigated his new adventure. The resulting photographic book, A Passage to Vietnam, testifies to the degree of his success.

In a desire to pictorially explore the broad expanse of daily life in Vietnam, Smolan organized seventy photographers from twenty-three nations to span out across the length of Vietnam for a five day period this March. Frustrated by the strict time restraint inherent in "A Day in the Life" concept, Smolan was interested in extending the length of time for shooting. The Vietnamese Ambassador to the United Nations, Le Van Bang, agreed. He invited Smolan and his retinue of photographers to explore the beauty of Vietnam for a week.

The process, of course, is never as simple as that. Since Smolan "wanted to go places no Westerners had ever seen before," he started with the Vietnamese Ministry of Culture and Information. The Vietnamese authorities gave him permission, allowing photographers to explore military bases, political chambers, and factories. The photographers found the Vietnamese to be generally friendly and accommodating.

Finding financial backing proved more difficult. Corporations hesitated until the U.S. embargo was lifted. Immediately, Smolan lined up substantial support that ranged from funds to donations of services. Apple Computer, Federal Express, Eastman Kodak, Nestle, and Thai Airways are a few of the sponsors.

The coordination of such a large project is overwhelming. The process was facilitated, however, by new technology. En route, the staff used Apple Macintosh PowerBooks and Photonics Cooperatives, small devices that create a local communication network by bouncing infra-red signals. This resource helped smooth the coordination process.

On March 22, the photographers congregated in Bangkok for photo supplies and assignments. The next day they flew to Vietnam for their five day sojourn. Assignments ranged from a baby hospital to isolated villages. All photographers had flexibility in the development and details of their assignments.

The results are impressive. The photographers returned with over 200,000 photos on 4,500 rolls of film. Only about 200 of the best images will make it into the final book, due out in November. "Vietnam is the most amazing country I have ever been to," said Smolan.

For Smolan to bring such a concept into fruition is pretty amazing as well.