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Michael Hawley, PhD ‘93, slowly opens the black cover of the huge book lying on the floor outside of his Media Lab office. Staring up from the 1.5-meter-tall page is a dark-skinned man with dozens of cornrow braids framing his face and a multicolored cap on his head. On the opposite page another man stares out, his face lined from years in the sun. A coarse-looking black wool hat sits atop his head, and three taillike twists of fur fall over his gray hair. The first is a musician, Hawley says, the second a yak herder-both from the small Himalayan kingdom Bhutan. The photos fill the entire 1.5-by-2-meter spread of the book with startlingly vivid color. The images are so clear that the chin whiskers on the musician look as if they could be plucked off the page. Hawley raises the book to stand on end, and suddenly the men look as if they will step out and start talking.

These are two of the approximately 100 photographs included in Hawley’s recently published Bhutan, which has been certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest book ever published. Although it is strictly a photo book, it’s definitely not of the coffee-table variety. In fact, you can’t hold it. The book weighs in at more than 50 kilograms, and the pages are so large that it takes both hands to turn them. But these images of a country often called the world’s “last Shangri-La” are more than just stunning-they are also technological marvels. In the process of producing them, Hawley squeezed the maximum image quality out of his professional-grade cameras and on-demand-printing equipment, solved one of the biggest problems in field photography, challenged a bindery to make the big book work, and established that digital images are every bit as good, if not better, than traditional film photographs. Best of all, he created the model for a series of books to raise funds for new schools in developing countries around the world.

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