October 27, 1986
Picture Editor : Karen Mullarkey

What is a country? That question is one no census or opinion poll or even a year's worth of headlines can really define. Last spring 200 photographers representing the world's leading magazines and newspapers fanned out across the United States looking for the pieces of the puzzle. The result is "A Day in the Life of America," one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken in photojournalism.

Americans, Europeans, Russians, Japanese ‑ all told, the group included nine Pulitzer Prize winners ‑ left the project's Denver headquarters with a single purpose: to compile what "DITLA” codirectors Rick Smolan and David Cohen call "a visual time capsule" of everyday life, during the 24 hours of an otherwise ordinary Friday in May. In all 50 states, from Cuba, Kans., to New York City, from Barrow, Alaska, to Florida's Gulf Coast, "A Day in the Life of America" was there.

Previous "Day in the Life" books focused on Australia, Hawaii, Canada and Japan. The $5 million America project made possible in part through support from Kodak, Merrill Lynch, United Airlines, Nikon, Apple Computer and Hertz operated on a far more ambitious scale, with a support staff of 50 assignment coordinators, logistics experts and editors.

In the pages that follow, Newsweek presents a selection from the more than 200,000 images taken on May 2. (Later this month, Collins Publishers will bring out the 272‑page "A Day in the Life of America" book.) No portrait of 240 million people can ever be truly comprehensive. But like the dots in a pointillist picture, the images taken together paint a fair likeness of modern life in the United States: alive with quirks, rich with tradition and blessed with an exceptional people.


Clearwater, FLA: An exercise class takes to the pool at the Top of the World retirement community.

St Petersburg, FLA: Goodbye to adolescence at Gibbs Senior High School’s prom.