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A Photo Op for the Ages

Roger Tefft's "Daybreak 2000" features the work of 125 outdoor photographers who snapped pictures around the globe on the first day of the new year.

March 10, 2000|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Years from now, when the world looks back on millennial celebrations marking the arrival of Y2K, there will be no shortage of photographs to conjure up memories of the most anticipated party in history.

But Roger Tefft of Long Beach had something special in mind.

As the creator and editor of "Daybreak 2000" (NorthWord Press, $24.95), Tefft assembled 125 professional outdoor photographers living and working in nearly 30 countries around the globe to photograph Earth's natural world as it appeared before them Jan. 1, 2000.

From the lush Okarito Lagoon in New Zealand to an aspen forest in Alberta, Canada, to Point Reyes National Seashore in California, some of Tefft's team captured images that haven't changed much over the millenniums.

At 7:10 a.m. in Maine, with only two howling coyotes for company, Bill Silliker Jr. clicked his shutter on the first crimson sunrise of 2000 at Togue Pond in Baxter State Park.

At 5:15 p.m. in Zimbabwe, Darrel C.H. Plowes, whose plans for morning photography were dashed by a torrential downpour, shot a 4,000-year-old baobab tree whose trunk measures 40 feet across at its greatest diameter.

At 7 p.m. in Patagonia, Chile, a trio of curious Magellanic penguins approached photographer Gary Braasch at Otway Gulf, 60 miles north of the tip of South America.

By the end of the day, the team had shot about 9,000 images. Tefft's work began three days later, as about 3,000 images--some on unprocessed rolls and others as finished slides--began arriving.

The photographers could edit their own images or submit unprocessed film, which 22 decided to do for various reasons. But even those who sent edited images typically sent anywhere from a dozen to a couple of hundred slides, trusting that Tefft's vision for the project would help him select the photos that best represented the day.

Tefft holed up at "Project Central," a tiny conference room at Buckner, Alani & Young, the Costa Mesa law firm where the 31-year-old is a junior associate. His boss, attorney William D. Buckner, supported the project by providing Tefft with time and office space to edit the book.

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He had 10 days to select 118 photographs and write the captions for the 144-page book. "The process was akin to a crucible," said Tefft, who put in 18-hour days and worked seven days beyond deadline to finish the book, with help from his wife, Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. Lesley Young.

Most nature photography books, which focus either on the work of one photographer or on a specific region, have first printings of 5,000 to 10,000 copies. But given the renowned noteam Tefft assembled, the subject matter, the significance of the day and the book's potential appeal, "Daybreak 2000: Earth's Natural Beauty Captured at the Dawn of a New Age" was given a first printing of 40,000 copies.

Anticipating its publication last month, Publishers Weekly noted that "with its sterling list of contributors, this promises to be a coffee-table book to treasure."

Tefft, whose idea of being at one with nature amounts to going snow skiing and taking an occasional hike, got the idea for the book almost three years ago. A 1997 graduate of USC's law school, he was trying to put the stress of the California bar exam out of his mind when "the creative side of my brain kicked in, and it kicked in big time."

While growing up in Eugene, Ore., Tefft recalls, he viewed 2000 as "this point in the future where we'd all be commuting to work in spaceships or teleporting our food electronically like you saw on the Starship Enterprise.

"For me, it seemed more appropriate not to commemorate how far we've come but to celebrate how much we've left the Earth alone. I thought how neat it would be to preserve on film what many of the world's beloved natural places looked like as of the beginning of 2000. . . . Hopefully, they will still look as they do in another thousand years and beyond."

Before entering law school in 1994, Tefft was a staff writer for Irvine-based Sea magazine and edited the magazine's tabloid Waterfront News. But he knew nothing about book publishing.

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Tefft made the rounds of New York publishing houses "and got a lot of doors slammed in my face." Ultimately, it took getting the support of some leading nature photographers to land a publisher, NorthWord Press of Minnetonka, Minn., one of the leading publishers of nature photography books.

But the agreement wasn't settled until mid-November, so late that the photographers didn't find out who would be publishing the book until the news arrived along with their film and project instructions in early December. "It was truly an 11th-hour deal," Tefft said.

Contributing photographers Art Wolfe, Galen Rowell, Bill Fortney, David Middleton and Jim Brandenburg were early supporters and advisors.

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