A Day in Whose Life? Photojournalism, Interpretation and Culture
University of Iowa
In 1981 Rick Smolan and his partner Andy Park published A Day In
The Life Of Australia with immediate commercial success. Why would a book about
Australia be so popular in the United States? Considering photojournalists as
an interpretive community, the author argues that the success of A Day In The
Life Of Australia results from an effective negotiation of visual meanings
between the photojournalists and their audience. The presence of these
negotiated meanings suggests that a particular historical "structure of feeling"
can be revealed through the examination of popular visual representations.
A Day in Whose Life?
Photojournalism, Interpretation and Culture
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School of Journalism and Mass Communication
University of Iowa
Iowa City, Iowa 52245
Why would a photo book about Australia sell 180,000 copies in the
United States? This simple question is the foundation of this paper. In 1981
Rick Smolan and his partner Andy Park published A Day In The Life Of Australia
with immediate commercial success. Drawing from that initial achievement,
Smolan went on to publish additional A Day In The Life Of . . . books to further
acclaim. Recently Smolan has expanded the concept to the Internet with his "24
Hours in Cyberspace."
What makes A Day In The Life Of Australia unique is its application
of these formats to an entire country simultaneously, and the incredible success
of the book with the general public in the United States. This type of success
suggests that the book's representations had tremendous cross-cultural
resonance. In an era of mass communication, when cultural artifacts can be
completely divorced from their locative meanings of production, understanding
these cultural meanings of the producers and their intended audience is as close
as outside observers can come to an iconology of mass media products.
Using a hybrid methodological process combining Stanley Fish's
"interpretative community," John B. Thompson's "depth hermeneutics," and
Edward W. Said's "contrapuntal analysis," I argue that the success of A Day
In The Life Of Australia can be understood if it is considered as representative
of its primary consumers in the United States. Raymond Williams refers to
socially constructed meanings created by a community as a "structure of
feeling." This paper assumes that such a structure does exist, and that by
examining visual representations a particular historical structure of feeling
can be revealed. This occurs when the interpretation of the formal elements in
a visual product is considered and analyzed relative to the social context and
group defined meanings of its producers.
A Day In The Life Of Australia was created by a group of
photojournalists and photo editors. As an interpretative community these
individuals worked together to create meanings through photojournalistic
practice. These meanings are imbedded through practice in their aesthetics, and
are asserted in the visual representations they produce. Thus analysis of A Day
In The Life Of Australia contradicts the assumption that photojournalistic
practice documents its subject accurately and demonstrates how photojournalists
as an interpretative community transcend the socially contextualized meanings of
the subject and represent those of the producer and their audience.
In order to explore this cross-cultural resonance, this paper will
first look at the roles of the producer, the text itself, American culture (as
an imperial power of a certain kind) and, finally, that of the Australian
culture (as a former colony.) The justification of the interpretations found
through this approach is that they must be inter-consistent with the text
itself, and express the synergistic relationship involved.
Photojournalism and the picture book
On January 7, 1839, Louis Daguerre announced that he and his partner
Joseph Niepce had succeeded in preserving the previously fleeting images seen in
the camera obscura (similar to a pinhole camera used to project images for
drawing). From its introduction photography was considered effective as
documentation precisely because the photograph relied less on the photographers
imagination of than on the precision and objectivity of light. Because of this
assumed objectivity, photography was used for making realistic engraved
reproductions for the mass press. By 1850 the use of photo engravings was
extended to book publishing with Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London
Poor, and in 1877 Adolphe Smith and John Thompson published their groundbreaking
collaboration Street Life In London. This is the earliest example of a book
combining text and photographic illustration where photographs are used as
In the United States, the documentary value of photography was
reinforced by its extensive use in the Civil War. After the war, photographers
spread over the western United States documenting it not only for scientific
purposes, but also to satisfy the enormous appetite of eastern consumers for
western "views." These photographs were then used as illustrations by
journalists in their coverage of the expeditions.
By the 1930s there were numerous books being published which combined
photographs in a more or less dominant relationship with text. All of these
books shared the common quality that photographs were used to provide
documentary evidence of an author's claims. An excellent example of this
interrelationship is Lawrence Stallings' The First World War. Because they
are priced higher than a newspaper and take longer to produce, the subjects of
these photo/text books are less ephemeral than those found in newspapers. What
these picture books lose in timeliness they supposedly made up for with a more
in-depth treatment of their subject.
Photojournalistic picture books also had close ties to the photo
magazine industry. While Fortune magazine is credited as being the first
"photo" magazine in the United States, it is LIFE magazine that brought
photography to a national mass audience. LIFE was an enormous success from its
first issue, and its photographic and editorial style shaped photojournalistic
practice immensely. Drawing from the increasing popularity of the movie
industry, LIFE and its competitors integrated a narrative sequence into their
arrangement of photographs. The result of this new practice was the
introduction of the photostory or photo essay. To this day, the mark of
documentary photographers is their ability to produce acceptable photostories on
a variety of subjects. This practice is so pervasive that almost every picture
photojournalism book produced since the introduction of LIFE attempts to use
photography in a narrative form.
By 1981, when Rick Smolan produced A Day In The Life Of Australia,
documentary photojournalism had become an established genre replete with
conventional forms. These conventions explain most of the structure of the
book. First, the general topic itself can be considered conventional.
Photojournalists had been doing "Day in the Life of . . ." stories since the
1920s in Germany and France, and LIFE and LOOK magazine did regular features
based on the 24-hour day concept. Booklist noted one limitation to this clich
"Day in the Life of . . ." approach. Their reviewer commented that "Although
the idea of everyone photographing on the same day is the gimmick that provides
this book with the necessary marketing hoopla, it also produces a somewhat
shallow, one-season look to the country." These comments were tempered however
when Booklist further noted that while "not quite the time capsule its editors
claim, the collection, nevertheless, is full of wonderful, thought-provoking,
beautifully printed black-and-white and color photographs."
Another photographic convention found in Smolan's book is that of the
photo essay. There are a number of these interspersed through A Day In The Life
Of Australia, and they are visually almost identical to their counterparts in
magazines and newspapers. The photo essay is considered as the cornerstone of
serious documentary photojournalism, and consequently each essay works to
increase the authority and respectability of the overall project.
A Day In The Life Of Australia and Rick Smolan
Rick Smolan in many ways epitomizes the 1980s version of the American
Dream. A Day In The Life Of Australia was but one step in his rise to head of a
large scale multimedia production company. Smolan, born and educated in the
United States, began his career as an international photographer when, at
twenty-four, he traveled to Japan on a four-day assignment photographing the
Tokyo police department. The trip became a harbinger of things to come when he
extended it to eleven months in the Orient followed by two years in Australia.
To Smolan, Australia was "a looking-glass version of America fifty years ago
pristine, energetic, and luminous." While photographing in Australia Smolan
landed his first photostory for National Geographic magazine, which was about
the adventurer Robyn Davidson. Smolan joined Robyn Davidson, who was traveling
by camel across the Australian outback from Alice Springs to the Atlantic ocean.
Davidson later used photographs taken by Smolan in her book about the journey,
Tracks. The book sold over 300,000 copies and was eventually translated into
eleven languages. Rick Smolan credits the commercial success of Tracks as the
inspiration for A Day In The Life Of Australia.
Smolan was an excellent businessperson as well as photographer.
Inspired by the photo agency Magnum which had been founded by photographers in
the 1950s, and realizing that photographers are only as successful as their
agents, Smolan and seven friends founded Contact Press Images. Along with
Smolan other founding members included Eddie Adams, David Burnett, Douglas
Kirkland, and Annie Leibovitz. While not all of these founding photographers
were included, it is worth noting that Adams, Burnett and Kirkland are all
featured in A Day In The Life Of Australia.
Regarding the book Rick Smolan said, "I hope this [the entire
project] will set some precedent." The success of A Day In The Life Of
Australia guaranteed that it did. After two years of planning, the initial 24-
hour photo shoot on March 6, 1981, came off without a hitch. After that the
book was produced in an extremely timely fashion which had it printed and
distributed in time for the Christmas gift market, which was no small feat.
After the photoshoot, the photographers were debriefed in Sidney, and their film
was processed for editing. The four photo editors sorted the 96,000 images and
made their selections in less then two weeks.
The resources required for A Day In The Life Of Australia were
immense, and Smolan developed a number of strategies to complete the project.
The first was that all the photographers had their expenses paid but worked for
free. While that arrangement seems unusual on the surface, it's actually not
that uncommon in photography. When photographers take a photograph they own
it. Unless they specifically sign away their right of ownership, they own the
images they take regardless of who their client is or who paid the bill.
Because of this right of ownership photographers will accept assignments at
reduced pay if they think they can sell the images in the secondary, or stock,
market. Images on file with a stock agency are sold on a per use basis to
clients world wide. This secondary market is so lucrative that some
photographers make the majority of their income from stock photography sales.
Smolan was also able to round up considerable corporate sponsorship
for his project. Most of this took the form of donations of services or
products. Each sponsor had its name listed in the back of the book with larger
contributors being put into special categories. The three largest sponsors also
had their corporate logo placed on the title page. The involvement of these
corporations suggests that they felt secure that the book would contain no
representations which might tarnish their sponsorship.
After the book was produced, good press reviews and positive consumer
response followed with sales eventually exceeding 180,000 copies. In a
business where a photo book with sales of over 15,000 is extremely successful,
the sales of A Day In The Life Of Australia were extraordinary.
Smolan capitalized on this early success with a series of follow-up
books always released just in time for the holiday market. The second book, A
Day In The Life Of Hawaii sold 75,000 copies. The next book, A Day In The
Life Of Japan, sold 125,000 copies, and A Day In The Life Of America became a
best seller and sold 1.2 million copies. Rick Smolan sold his company, A
Day in the Life Inc., to Collins publishing in 1986, but stayed on as editor
long enough to see A Day In The Life Of America through production in 1987.
Recently Smolan, Phillip Moffitt (an owner and editor of Esquire),
and Rob Cook (the developer of the computer program Renderman used in Terminator
II and Toy Story) founded Light Source, a company producing software for desktop
publishing and the popular text-imaging program Ofoto.
The Book and its Parts
The first impression of A Day In The Life Of Australia is its
10-and-1/2-inch by 14-and-1/4-inch size. This is large by photography book
standards, and the full bleed cover photograph of a diver entering the water is
compelling. The blue water of the background is uncluttered by any extraneous
detail, with the modestly sized title directly above the diver's head. This
sparse, yet lush, beginning precedes the three blank pages and a black page with
the title in yellow letters. Following this are eight full-bleed double-page
spreads. Some of these have type reversed out of the photograph but the
dominant element is always the photograph. The fourth of these spreads is a
tabletop photograph of the letter that Rick Smolan sent to solicit photographers
for the project.
After this lavish introduction, the book moves into its primary
section containing the more typical page layouts found in the book. Each of
these layouts has a silhouette of Australia with one or more red dots
referencing the location of the photographs. Under the map, in regular type, is
a listing of the time the photograph was taken. Beginning at 7:00 a.m., these
layouts present a chronological sequence ending with the last photograph taken
at 12:00 midnight. Interspersed are some longer photostories that give a more
in-depth view of particular subjects.
Four additional elements follow the main photography section. The
first of these is a double-page map of Australia covered with red dots
indicating the site of each photograph in the book and the page number of its
location. Next is a double-page group portrait of the photographers taken at
the Sydney opera house (a clich site for Australia), followed by three pages of
text and pictures of the photographers and staff at work. The text tells the
story of the project and, combined with the images, interrelates to provide a
sense of narrative realism. The third of these sections is four pages of short
biographies of each of the photographers. Along with their biographies some of
the photographers have included one of their better-known photographs. None of
these are from the Australian project, and they vary in subject from fashion
shots to Eddie Adams' riveting image of an on the spot execution in Vietnam.
The final element is a two-page listing of the contributors and corporate
sponsors. These names are white against a silhouette of the Australian
landscape at sunrise or sunset.
In order to consider just how Australian this book is or is not, a
content analysis was carried out which revealed the following information.
Although the back of the book claims that there are 367 photographs in the book,
the actual count is 333 (exclusive of the 9 photographs documenting the project
and the 20 pictures in the biography section). From the projects total of
96,000 photographs, only one out of approximately 288 (a 0.34% acceptance rate)
made it into the final book.
Tracing the photographs in the book to particular photographers'
nationalities reveals the following predominance of photographers from the
Number of photographers Total photos in book Percentage
40 USA 183 55%
33 Australia 55 17%
5 French 13 4%
6 UK 8 2%
4 Japan 2 1%
3 Germany 15 5%
1 India 9 3%
1 Argentina 6 2%
1 New Zealand 4 1%
1 Brazil 4 1%
1 Switzerland 2 1%
1 China 2 1%
1 Canada 2 1%
1 Stateless 2 1%
1 Italy 0 0%
10 stringers 13 4%
12 children 12 4%
1 unlisted (child) 1
Total 333 photographs 103%
There are also 62 icons and one large map of Australia, and 3
corporate logos (BP, Quantas, Trans Australia Airlines).
Significance of the Elements: The Photographs
For most viewers, photography is an objective representation of
reality. This perceived realism certifies authenticity, and renders the
photograph a truthful documentation of its subject. With each photograph the
photographer claims something as special enough for valorization and conquest by
the technology of photography. The consequence of this is that one of the
most powerful aspects of photography is its ability to be simultaneously
honorific and repressive. Thus the gaze of photography becomes the gaze of
modernist typification. Some theorists have suggested that the drive towards
representation combined with the repetitive nature of technological solutions
have led to a tendency to create these patterns, or archives of
representation. This would explain the use of photography as an archive or
typification of life. The photographs of August Sander would be an excellent
example of this, as he sought to photograph all the different types of Germans.
By extension, these patterns become cultural norms deliberately representing the
imposition of a rational will upon the world, forming a foundation of the
dominant cultural representations. Through reification, the manufacturing of
objects eventually has a separate connotation from the objects produced. The
consequence is that the object now stands for a particular set of social
The importance of this differentiation and its relation to class
structure is explored by both Thorsten Veblen and Pierre Bourdieu. In The
Theory of the Leisure Class, Veblen outlined the ways that the leisured
class express status, and showed how this is extended to society through
emulation of taste. Good taste is associated with increasing distance from work
and the realistic or natural world. Following the work of Veblen, Bourdieu
demonstrated that the central pillar of Kantian aesthetics contemplation that
transcends the immediacy of experience is a single perspective, that of the
dominant class. The consequence of this is that aesthetics is oppositional to
more experienced-based popular culture. Bourdieu used photography as an example
of this showing that the dominant class perspective prefers cabbages and a car
crash while the popular culture opposition prefers a sunset and first
communion. Through what Bourdieu calls "habitas" or what Raymond Williams
refers to as a "structure of feeling," this oppositional aesthetic
distinction arises from material conditions.
A Day In The Life Of Australia uses different elements of the
documentary photography genre to appeal to the dominant Kantian aesthetic while
appeasing its opposition. While the book overflows with beautiful photographs,
few of them are average or normal. The aesthetic of photography, even
documentary and advertising photography, is to go beyond a depiction of the
subject and instead capture its essence. However, not just anyone becomes a
photographer. Because photography is expensive both to produce and buy,
photographic aesthetics parallel the aesthetics of the dominant classes.
Further, because photographers depend on their ability to produce images
aesthetically pleasing to the dominant class, most professional photographers
come from a dominant class. Terry Eagleton has also written on how the dominant
classes define themselves as a universal subject. Eagleton notes that one
reason aesthetics can maintain social domination is because "what finally
secures social order is that realm of customary practice and instinctual piety,
more supple than abstract rights, where the living energies and affections of
subjects are invested."
Thus the values of the middle class, their aesthetics as it were, are
precisely the nature of the photographic representations found in A Day In The
Life Of Australia. The photographs depict Australia as a highly social rural
environment. Families are together with children, and everyone in the
neighborhood knows each other and is ready with a smile or a cup of tea. People
work to tame the land, and in return are receiving the fruits of their labor,
peace and freedom. Australia is photographed as a land of small businesses
with their proud owners minding the store. When big business is depicted, it is
with strong portraits of workers doing their jobs. Even though mining is the
major industry of resource rich Australia, we never once see miners exploiting
the landscape held so dear. The urban environment is orderly and clean, and
only a fool or a primitive would not appreciate it.
Only criminals and aboriginals mar this perfect idyll. Fortunately
all the criminals are safely in jail, and all the aboriginals depicted as in the
bush or belonging there. One potential explanation for the depiction of these
groups as socially deviant is that they exist outside industrialization and
objectification. These are the "primitive" Australians, the ones that exist
outside consciousness and the active construction of the social world, hence
they are incapable of integration into modern objectified and rationalized
society. These depictions act as a warning to anyone who might consider
rejecting the values and meanings found in the rest of the photographs. These
depictions serve an additional purpose however. The negative representations
increase a photojournalistic claim of objectivity, and mask the subjective
nature of the meanings in the book.
The Icons and Map of Australia
The icons (a graphic silhouette of Australia with color dots
representing the location of the photographs displayed on the page) serve a
twofold function. First, they drive the narrative structure of the book. As we
page forward through the book they remind us that we are also moving through a
day. By following the red dot locators on the icon, we move through and around
Australia as well. Secondly, the icons function to collapse a country into a
series of illustrations which authenticate the accompanying photographs.
Consequently their second function builds on their first, and working like the
panopticon they allow the reader to view, and dominate, Australia for a day.
The panopticon as conceived by Jeremy Bentham in the 1850s was a tool
for the reform of criminals. In it a dominant viewer could hold the power of
his gaze over the deviant viewed. In Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault
notes that the image of the panopticon represents the shift from "sovereign" to
administrative surveillance. With the panopticon, surveillance occurs
through contract with the state or other dominant political power. The
consequence of this surveillance is that it enforces positive change through an
ever-present observing rationalism. The icons and the photographs in A Day In
The Life Of Australia create a panopticon where we can view Australia, but it
can never look back and know we are looking. The aesthetic valuations
constructing our vision of the world through a vehicle like photojournalism, a
vision specifically designed by the dominant class for mass consumption, are
usually the values and meanings of the dominant class. Each work consists of
visions of the world subsumed into a dominant aesthetic designed to reproduce
existing reified values. The power of photography is that it seems to provide a
bridge from the natural and truthful subject to the aestheticised construction
found in the finished product. The icons work to build this bridge, and focus
the dominant gaze on its subject. The map at the end of the book completes the
panopticon project readers control Australia with their gaze. Australia has
been contained for surveillance, and with photography typified into an archive.
If this interpretation seems extreme, consider the following review from Time
There are no kangaroos and boomerangs here, only the
biography of a people and a nation apprehended in a Blakeian work
allows readers to hold infinity in the palms of their hands and
While A Day In The Life Of Australia is striking in its lack of text,
what texts there are utilize differing devices to create meaning. First there
are the captions. Each photograph is accompanied by a caption that
contextualizes or expands on some of the cultural meanings that otherwise might
be missed. While most of these are neutral, some unusual ones bear closer
examination. The first accompanies a view of a funeral service and states:
The role of the missionary in outback Australia has been
both lavishly praised and bitterly condemned. Nineteenth century
missionaries brought the aboriginal people their first experience
western religion and often of western medicine as well. But the
brought a new culture, complete with previously unknown diseases
(especially leprosy, heart disease and alcoholism). Within 100
traditional aboriginal life had disappeared and much of the
culture lay in ruin. The problems continue today trachoma ( a
disease which can result in blindness) affects one in three
children in the outback, the aboriginal infant mortality rate is
the national average, and the life expectancy for an aboriginal
is 25 years
less than that of a white Australian.
While a cursory reading of this text reveals its acknowledgment of
some of the guilt of colonization, there is an alternative possibility. While
the colonizers carried these diseases they were able to withstand them. The
aboriginal population however, being weaker, succumbed. While this extremely
unpleasant interpretation seems far fetched, its Darwinian implications are
supported by the photographs depicting aboriginals as primitive.
A further negative comment accompanies a close-up photograph of a
woman sunning and holding a cigarette. It notes that, "unfortunately, this
exposure to the Australian summer sun gives Australians the highest rate of skin
cancer in the world." The consequence of this juxtaposition is that sexual
nature of the photograph is reduced to a clinical case study by the caption. A
reasonable conclusion regarding the captions is that they work to reinforce the
narrative nature of the book, while also serving to diffuse any meanings that
might threaten assumptions regarding Australia.
Another textual element is the letter that introduces the reader to
the book and project. The reader enters into the backstage production with this
letter, and it works to turn the reader into an accomplice. This enhances the
expeditionary aspect of viewing the photographs, and is consistent with the
icons and photographs in suggesting dominance.
The stories of the project at the back of the book and the
biographies of the photographers combine history with authority. After all, the
book exists, and thus the history of the project is a success story. Rick
Smolan has achieved his stated goal in producing the book. The biographies
provide authority for the project as each lists the success of the
photographers. In combination with the well-known news and editorial
photographs that accompany the biographies, the impression is that these are
professionals brought to do a professional job.
The final textual element is the credits, presented like a list of
donors in the back of a symphony program. The comparison is apt because the
book, like the symphony, is a cultural artifact produced for mass consumption.
Since the United States has an established tradition of corporations providing
support for dominant class culture, the presentation of the supporters' names
in this fashion suggests that A Day In The Life Of Australia is consistent with
this cultural validation.
The Elements Combined
One of the primary themes explored by Edward Said in Culture and
Imperialism is that imperialism's cultural manifestations are visible, that it
does not conceal its worldly affiliations or interests. Imperialism is always
interested in increasing or maintaining power, and one of its profound
achievements is its ability to bring the world together. Thus the values of
imperialism, the dominant classes, and the goals of mass media producers are
The five processes that Said claims are part of the relationship
between imperialism and representation are all based on a subordination and
domination of the other, and all are present in A Day In The Life Of Australia.
The first process is "a self-forgetting delight in the use of powerthe power to
observe, rule, hold, and profit from distant territories and people." Rick
Smolan believed that he could make a meaningful document of Australia in one
day, exploiting his subjects, and sharing any profits with his fellow
photographers. True, he hired thirty-three Australian photographers, but the
vast majority of photographs in the book are by his fellow photojournalists from
the United States.
The second of Said's processes is the creation of "an ideological
rationale for reducing, then reconstituting the native as someone to be ruled
and managed." The icons and map, like the panopticon, work well at reducing
Australia to a manageable size. Further, the depictions of Australia's vast
wilderness can be construed as an economic vacuum waiting to be filled and
exploited for the corporate and public good. This is consistent with the
portrayal of Australians as hard-working individuals, capable of being managed.
The third process in imperial representation "is the idea of Western
salvation and redemption through its 'civilizing mission.'" Consider that
the only photograph with a kangaroo in it (an indigenous natural element) is a
depiction of an aboriginal mother with a child and small kangaroo in her arms.
Is it too far fetched to consider that through an imperial essentialism of the
"other" they become similar? With aboriginals depicted as the primitive "other"
waiting to be civilized, the civilizing mission of the northern European
colonizers is plain. What is the role of the United States in this process? The
comments of the following American photographers are extremely revealing on this
It was very new like America at the beginning. It was very
beautiful, friendly, open. I felt free.
Northwestern Australia was like southern California 30 years
ago. There's a sense of hard work there. People subjected to
problems form strong human bonds. It was good to see a
willingness to cope
with physical hardship to do the job. I came away with a very
Perth has a real boom town atmosphere. If I come back in say 10 to
15 years I will be glad to have seen Perth today.
In a nostalgic fashion, Australia is considered as a less-advanced,
"less-civilized" version of the United States; redemption and salvation would
make it US.
Said's fourth process is "the security of a situation that permits
the conqueror not to look into the truth of the violence he does." While
the book works as a type of panopticon, it is a selective panopticon. The
reader only views selected subjects. The process of selection by the
photographers and photo editors, under the overarching eye of corporate
sponsors, assures the elimination of any negative or violent depictions of the
domination process. As the colonial capital is distanced from the military
oppression that maintains it, the book is distanced from the exploitive
corporate culture which produced it.
The fifth and final of Said's processes is that "after the natives
have been displaced from their historical location on the land, their history is
rewritten as a function of the imperial one." This, of course, is precisely
the project of A Day In The Life Of Australia. However, this process cannot
happen in a vacuum. The next two sections contrast conditions in Australia and
the United States to locate the book within the discourse and cultural meanings
present in both cultures.
The United States in 1981
The late 1970s and early 1980s saw a radical restructuring in the
fabric of American life. The United States began to question earlier "great
society" utopianism as national and international situations contradicted
fundamental assumptions. National security came into question when OPEC
successfully controlled the price and output of oil, and the price increases
and limited supplies led to an "energy crises" threatening the nation's economy.
Militarily, the United States had considered itself the most powerful nation in
the post World War II era but by the 1980s failure hung like a cloud around the
military establishment. The humiliating defeat of the U.S.-trained South
Vietnamese army brought this assumption into question, and the disastrous
attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran dashed any illusions regarding
United States military effectiveness. The political landscape was also marred
by failure. The Watergate scandal lead to the first presidential resignation in
United States history, and it was only a presidential pardon by Gerald Ford that
protected Richard Nixon from criminal prosecution. Poor fiscal policy led to
enormous budget and trade deficits and "double digit" inflation. Finally, the
worst recession and rural hardship since the 1930s was combined with the
de-industrialization of the United States economy, which forced millions of
working- and middle-class Americans to accept lower pay and benefit packages or
John Kenneth White noted in The New Politics of Old Values that "in
1979 the Reagan campaign commissioned a poll inquiring about the values and
aspirations of the electorate. Results indicated that Reagan backers regretted
the loss of values in society, particularly those associated with the business
ethics of hard work and high yield." The 1980 United States census showed a
trend of white flight from the cities, and an increase in the ethnic makeup of
urban America. As the dominant white class became threatened by emergent
social forces it took flight into its frontier past. Since identity is based on
the experience of surviving through the circumstances of life, and because all
experience is by definition past experience and our identity is based on what we
were, a scrutiny of the past helps define who we were and are. It is only
natural for a national consciousness going through change to desire to root
itself in a more successful and less limited past.
In 1980 Ronald Reagan was elected President on a platform dedicated
to the reconstruction of the United States. Embodying the "new beginning" of
Reagan the overarching slogan of the 1980 republican party platform was "Family.
Neighborhood. Work. Peace. Freedom." As Garry Wills noted, what Reagan
offered was "a discipline of cheer. As Reagan said in the 1980 campaign: 'Our
optimism has once again been turned loose. And all of us recognize that these
people who keep talking about the age of limits are really talking about their
own limitations, not America's.'" Sidney Blumenthal noted in Our Long
National Daydream that
when Ronald Reagan was president all things seemed possible,
as they do in daydreams. We would be rich, powerful, and sleep
well. . . .
It was a form of mind cure, oddly reminiscent of one of the
doctrines of the 1920s promulgated by the renowned positive
Coue: 'Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better.'
in the age of Harding and Coolidge nodded their heads in the
uplift their brain waves. Their minds could conquer matter;
foster the conditions that gave rise to it.
The new attitude towards business in this reconstruction was
demonstrated symbolically when a portrait of Calvin Coolidge was dusted off and
hung in the cabinet room as an inspiration for the Reagan administration.
Coolidge was famous for his "business of America is business" attitude along
with his beliefs for small government and support of the wealthy. The Reagan
White House emulated these policies and acted sympathetically towards big
business and its need to be as profitable as possible. For the skilled
practitioners of this economic American dream, the rewards were a lifestyle
filled with conquest, adventure and luxury. As Irving Kristol noted, "it was
time to assert a 'new nationalism. . . being unafraid to say We're Number
One.'" As Reagan said in a campaign speech, "I think it's time to tell we
don't care if they don't like us or not, they're going to respect us again. . .
. No more Taiwans, no more Vietnams, no more betrayal of friends."
Australia in 1981
In 1786 George III decided to found a penal colony in Australia, thus
beginning imperial Britain's relationship with the continent. Australia
maintained its essentially British heritage in spite of its humble beginnings,
and in 1901 became a commonwealth. Free from any threat of war (until the
1940s), Australia developed a diversified economy based on agriculture, mining,
manufacturing and shipping.
From the start of the European invasion of Australia in 1788, until
the early 1940s, Australia was first a possession and then a colony of the
British empire. Thereafter in a series of broken steps starting with the
bombing of Darwin in by the Japanese in 1942, the United States gradually
exerted greater and greater influence. Bruce Grant noted
The recent history of Australia can be seen as a process of
adjustment to American leadership in Australia's part of the
requiring Australians to set aside some of the enduring and
qualities of their British heritage and to adopt American ways.
military power of the United States was accepted first, then its
power, then its political and cultural values. . . . the
British heritage to American hegemony has been smooth and,
most changes in international relations, relatively painless.
However, the downside of this dependence on the United States
according to Bruce Grant, is that "as a military, economic, political and
cultural dominion of the United States, Australia is not yet a nation, and has
never been one."
Post-war governments fostered non-British immigration and eventually
abandoned the whites-only policy allowing for an increasing immigration of
Asians. In Will She Be Right? The Future of Australia, Kahn and Pepper noted a
number of relevant Australian concepts that defined the Australian
character. Mateship and egalitarianism evolved from Australia's harsh
conditions where people were thrown together to work on distant sheep ranches or
in gold mines. A strong sense of isolationism works against dynamic change and
supports a traditional business-as-usual approach. Another aspect related to
isolationism is a protect-my-corner mentality that reflects an insecurity and
defensiveness relative to the rest of the world. The consequence of these social
forces was that by 1980 two distinct elements of the Australian character had
emerged: a feeling of economic and psychological sufficiency and a social
attitude promoting consolidation and stability rather than growth and
Social pressures were also mounting, as changes in the industrial
sector were leading to a de-laborization in Australia. As manufacturing
employment fell, unemployment increased from 1 or 2 percent in 1944 to 10
percent in 1980. Like the United States, Australia was enduring structural
changes in its economy along with social and, consequently, political change.
Growth became a key concern, as Australia moved away from its labor emphasis.
By 1983, Bruce Grant noted that, "the new myth is that Australians have become
one of the highest taxed people in the world, which is stifling their ability to
make money. . . . A strange doctrine arose that 'waste' occurred only in the
public sector, because it was eliminated in the private sector by the market.
Anything that could be sold could not, by definition, be wasted."
One conclusion that can be drawn from this is that some of the same
economic, political and social forces which were affecting the United States
were also affecting Australia.
Conclusion: The Intersection of Cultures
After considering the cultural forces present in Australia and the
United States, A Day In The Life Of Australia can be seen as representing of the
intersection of the two cultures. The book, its success, and its author,
proclaimed a new American and Australian attitude that fostered corporate
success and a return to romanticized frontier values. In The Philosophy of Art
History Arnold Hauser explicates how creative producers unintentionally and
unconsciously become the mouthpiece of their customers and patrons. That A Day
In The Life Of Australia put the corporate logos of their major underwriters on
the introductory page shows how just how consciously Smolan considered corporate
goals as consistent with his own. Mirroring Smolan working towards his own
economic conquest of the continent, A Day In The Life Of Australia joined its
familiar yet exotic colonial location with carefully selected photographic
representations, and combined them with the 1980s American ideal of corporate
empire constructed by an individual avarice which construes wealth with
Considering the success of the Reagan campaign, with its call for the
nation to "experience 'a sense of return' to the Jeffersonian concept of
community, using the values of family, work, peace, freedom, self-esteem, and
self-realization to achieve their diverse political ends," it is important
to recognize that by 1981 these Jeffersonian goals masked an expansionist
imperialist practice that Americans hoped for. In this context, A Day In The
Life Of Australia can be seen as a representation of the 1980s' renewal of
United States imperialist practice.
A Day In The Life Of Australia succeeded because, like Ronald Reagan,
Australia represented to the dominant classes a romanticized past free from
contemporary stress. The comments of the American photographers reflect their
optimistic response to Australia, an optimism found in their photographs. Harry
Matison claimed, "the Australian people are later twentieth-century
pioneers." While Jane Atwood noted that, "in Australia there is a very
positive attitude between teachers, parents, and children." This type of
positive attitude was a tonic to Americans leaving urban areas in search of
better jobs and a more congenial life style. As a natural response by Americans
to the stress experienced during social change, the pollster Daniel Yankelovich
reported that the "search for community" grew from 32 percent in 1973 to 47
percent at the start of the 1980s.
The authors of The Rhetorical Analysis of the Reagan Administration
"it is important to remind ourselves that Reagan did not
single-handedly create a new public discourse for the 1980s. Just as his
personal political consciousness was a product of a particular ideological
environment and history, so too, was his discourse the product of the
particular discursive resources available to him when he ran for and won the
presidency in 1980. In a sense, Reagan plunged into public discourse more then
he invented it."
In this way Reagan was able to become what Thomas S. Langston would
call an "ideological prophet." The result of this was, according to John
Kenneth White, that "Ronald Reagan's salesmanship has had consequences that
reach far beyond the presidency itself. Each president generally mirrors and
amplifies the dominant values of the populace. So, too, do those who produce
television programs, movies, records, and books. Reagan's rearticulation of
traditional values especially family, work, neighborhood, self esteem, and
self-realization has met with strong acceptance from political consumers and
consumers of all forms of entertainment." A Day In The Life Of Australia
is part of this same discourse, and reflects the goals of both Reaganism and its
inter-relationship with American values and needs.
Expanding from the observations of Edward Said, it is reasonable
to argue that the value in studying representations of an imperial power like
the United States over a dominated "other" like Australia is not just as an
explication of an unequal relationship, but as a point of entry into the
formation and meaning of cultural practice that centers around the dialectic of
dominance and exploitation. Examining A Day In The Life Of Australia
demonstrates that cultural practice and the aesthetics of representation are
related to, and part of the process of, the politics of empire.
Blumenthal, Sidney. Our Long National Daydream: A Political Pageant of
the Reagan Era. New York: Harper and Row 1988.
Boas, Franz. Primitive Art New York: Dover, 1955.
Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of
Taste. Translated by Richard Nice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984.
Carlebach, Michael L. The Origins Of Photojournalism In America
Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992.
Davidson, Robyn. Tracks. New York: Pantheon Books, 1980.
Eagleton, Terry. "Free Particulars." Chap. in The Ideology of the
Aesthetic. Cambridge, Mass: Basil Blackwell LTD, 1990.
Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison.
Translated by Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage, 1979.
Gombrich, Ernst. The Sense of Order. London: Phaidon, 1979.
Grant, Bruce. The Australian Dilemma: A New Kind of Western Society.
Rushcutters Bay, NSW: Macdonald Futura Australia, 1983.
Hauser, Arnold. The Philosophy of Art History. New York: Knopf, 1959.
Hunter, Jefferson. Image and Word: The Interaction of
Twentieth-Century Photographs and Texts. Cambridge: Harvard University Press,
Kahn, Herman., and Thomas Pepper. Will She Be Right? The Future of
Australia St. Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press, 1980.
Langston, Thomas S. Ideologues and Presidents: From the New Deal to
the Reagan Revolution. Baltimore, MD.: The Johns Hopkins University Press,
Marx, Karl. Early Writings. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975.
McQueen, Humphrey. Gone Tomorrow: Australia in the 80s. Australia:
Angus & Robertson Publishers, 1982.
Panofsky, Erwin. "Iconography and Iconology: An Introduction to the
Study of Renaissance Art." Chap. in Meaning in the Visual Arts. Garden City,
N.Y.: Doubleday, 1955.
Pearce, Barnett W. and Michael Weiler. "The Rhetorical Analysis of the
Reagan Administration." Chap. in Reagan and Public Discourse in America. ed. W
Barnett Pearce and Michael Weiler. Tuscaloosa, AL.: The University of Alabama
Said, Edward W. Culture And Imperialism. New York: Alfred A. Knopf,
Smolan, Rick., and Andy Park. A Day In The Life Of Australia. New
York: Abrams, 1982.
Sontag, Susan. On Photography. New York: Anchor Books, 1977.
Stallings, Laurence. The First World War: A Photographic History. New
York: Simon & Schuster, 1933.
Thompson, John B. Ideology and Modern Culture: Critical Social Theory
in the Era of Mass Communication. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990.
Veblen, Thorstein. The Theory of the Leisure Class. London: George
White, John Kenneth. The New Politics of Old Values. Hanover, MA.:
University Press of New England, 1988.
White, Theodore H. America in Search of Itself: The Making of the
President, 1956- 1980. New York: Harper & Row 1982.
Williams, Raymond. The Long Revolution. London: Penguin, 1965.
Wills, Garry. Reagan's America. Garden City, NY.: Doubleday, 1987;
reprint, New York: Penguin, 1988.
Yankelovich, Daniel. New Rules: Searching for Self-Fulfillment in a
World Turned Upside Down. New York: Random House, 1981.
Reston, James, Jr.. "A Day in the Life of Rick Smolan." Esquire, 107
December 1985, 118.
See, Lisa. Review of A Day In The Life Of Australia, by Rick Smolan
and Andy Park. In Publishers Weekly 239 (May 11, 1992): 27.
Review of A Day In The Life Of Australia, by Rick Smolan and Andy
Park. In Booklist, 79 (January 15, 1983): 655.
Review of A Day In The Life Of Australia, by Rick Smolan and Andy
Park, In TIME, 118 (December 14, 1981): 86.
 Iconology has been criticized by some art historians for only
being applicable to renaissance art. While it is important to recognize this,
combining iconology with Raymond Williams "structure of Feeling" does seem to
offer interesting possibilities. See also, Erwin Panofsky, "Iconography and
Iconology: An Introduction to the Study of Renaissance Art," in Meaning in the
Visual Arts (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1955), 26-54.
 Fish argues that as interpretive communities, cultural
sub-groups are characterized by not just socioeconomic background, but by their
discursive modes of interpreting cultural forms, which gives rise to different
constructions of social reality and action. One important aspect of this
process is that although there are no absolute meanings, certain powerful
interpreters persuade others to adopt their meanings. Applying this approach
to journalists, journalistic practice is conceptualized as forming an
interpretive community working to fix and define meanings not only for
themselves, but also for their community and audience. Stanley Fish, Is There A
Text In This Class? The Authority Of Interpretive Communities (Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 1980).
 Thompson describes "depth hermeneutics" as a deep reading
of mass media products against their cultural forces of production. This
approach considers that mass communication products are socially constructed,
and I would argue related to the meanings of the producers interpretative
community. John B. Thompson, Ideology and Modern Culture: Critical Social
Theory in the Era of Mass Communication (Stanford: Stanford University Press,
 For Said, "contrapuntal analysis" is the reading of texts
relative to the dominant and subordinate culture. Said argues that
imperialism's cultural manifestations are visible, and that it does not conceal
its worldly affiliations or interests. Further, because imperialism is always
interested in increasing or maintaining power, the values of imperialism, the
dominant classes, and the goals of mass media producers are consistent. This is
a useful strategy whenever issues of imperialism are involved in representation
and interpretation. Edward W. Said, Culture And Imperialism (New York: Alfred
A. Knopf, 1993.
 Raymond Williams, The Long Revolution (London: Penguin, 1965),
 A technically oriented history of the early use of photography
in the United States can be found in, Michael L. Carlebach, The Origins Of
Photojournalism In America (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press,
 Jefferson Hunter, Image and Word: The Interaction of
Twentieth-Century Photographs and Texts (Cambridge: Harvard University Press,
 Michael L. Carlebach, "The West As Photo Opportunity," chap.
in The Origins Of Photojournalism In America (Washington, DC: Smithsonian
Institution Press, 1992), 102-149.
 Laurence Stallings, The First world War: A Photographic
History (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1933).
 Review of A Day In The Life Of Australia, by Rick Smolan and
Andy Park , In Booklist, 79 (January 15, 1983): 655.
 James Reston Jr., "A Day in the Life of Rick Smolan,"
Esquire, 107 December 1985, 118.
 Robyn Davidson, Tracks (New York: Pantheon Books, 1980).
 Lisa See, review of A Day In The Life Of Australia, by Rick
Smolan and Andy Park, in Publishers Weekly (May 11, 1992): 27.
 Rick Smolan and Andy Park, A Day In The Life Of Australia
(New York: Abrams, 1982), 282.
 Reston, 118.
 Reston, 116- 122.
 See, 28.
 Ibid., 27.
 Error due to rounding.
 For a discussion of photography as conquest see Susan
Sontag, On Photography (New York: Anchor Books, 1977).
 The tendency for pattern to emerge is central to Franz Boas,
Primitive Art (New York: Dover, 1955). Another discussion of this can also be
found in Ernst Gombrich, The Sense of Order (London: Phaidon, 1979).
 Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class (London:
George Allen, 1970).
 Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the
Judgment of Taste, trans. Richard Nice (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University
Press, 1984), 32-48.
 Williams, 61.
 Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic (Cambridge,
Mass: Basil Blackwell LTD, 1990), 25.
 Eagleton, 22.
 In Marx Karl, Early Writings (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975),
328-329. Marx states in regards to the processes of objectification that "The
practical creation of an objective world, the fashioning of inorganic nature, is
proof that man is a conscious species-being."
 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the
Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage, 1979).
 Review of A Day In The Life Of Australia, by Rick Smolan and
Andy Park, TIME, (December 14, 1981), 86.
 Smolan , 90.
 Smolan , 79.
 Said, 131.
 Said, 131.
 Smolan , 283.
 Ibid., 285.
 Smolan , 286.
 Said, 131.
 Said, 131-132.
 John Kenneth White, The New Politics of Old Values (Hanover,
Mass: University Press of New England, 1988), 49.
 Theodore H. White, America in Search of Itself: The Making
of the President, 1956-1980 (New York: Harper & Row 1982), 349.
 Ibid., 317.
 Garry Wills, Reagan's America (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday,
1987; reprint, New York: Penguin, 1988), 456.
 Sidney Blumenthal, Our Long National Daydream: A Political
Pageant of the Reagan Era (New York: Harper and Row, 1988), xiii-xiv.
 Wills, 403.
 White T., 307.
 Bruce Grant, The Australian Dilemma: A New Kind of Western
Society (Rushcutters Bay, NSW: Macdonald Futura Australia, 1983), 6.
 Humphrey McQueen, Gone Tomorrow: Australia in the 80s
(Australia: Angus & Robertson Publishers, 1982), 221.
 Herman Kahn and Thomas Pepper, Will She Be Right? The Future
of Australia (St. Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press, 1980),
 Kahn, 79.
 McQueen, 218-219.
 Grant, 225.
 Arnold Hauser, The Philosophy of Art History (New York:
 White, J., 124.
 Smolan , 285.
 Ibid., 130.
 Daniel Yankelovich, New Rules: Searching for Self-Fulfillment
in a World Turned Upside Down (New York: Random House, 1981), 251.
 W Barnett Pearce and Michael Weiler, "The Rhetorical Analysis
of the Reagan Administration," in Reagan and Public Discourse in America ed. W
Barnett Pearce and Michael Weiler (Tuscaloosa, AL: The University of Alabama
Press, 1992), 6-7.
 Thomas S. Langston, Ideologues and Presidents: From the New
Deal to the Reagan Revolution (Baltimore, MD.: The Johns Hopkins University
 White, J., 103.
 Said, 191.