“Young Men of the Second Ward, El Paso’s Classic “Barrio” near the Mexican Border,” 06/1972. © Danny Lyon
After an awakening in the US during the late 1960s, the Nixon administration set up the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970 to clean up the nation’s air and water. The following year, the EPA began hiring freelance photographers to document the state of the environment and efforts to improve it. The project, called Documerica, was inspired by the Farm Security Administration’s photography program, for which Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and others were hired to photograph the FSA’s efforts to help poor farmers during the Great Depression.
More than 100 photographers contributed to Documerica, capturing life in America, with particular attention to social and environmental concerns: coal mining, agriculture, urban renewal, smog from factories and automobiles, waste, and other topics. The Corcoran Gallery exhibited a selection of the images in 1978, and afterwards, the project was mostly forgotten. Now, for the 35th anniversary of the project, the National Archives has “rediscovered” its trove of about 25,000 Documerica images, and mounted an exhibition and published a book called “Searching for the Seventies: The DOCUMERICA Photography Project.” Together the book and exhibition provide a time-capsule look back on 70s society and culture that seems surreal in some ways. The exhibition, at the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, is free and open to the public, and runs through September 8, 2013. Nearly 16,000 Documerica images are also searchable online by topic, photographer, or location.
“Coal City Club in Coal City, West Virginia, a Part of Beckley. All of the Men Are Coal Miners,” 06/1974. © Jack Corn
“Trying to hear….,” 05/1973. © David Brill
“Residents of the Century Village Retirement Community Gather Around Pool for Daily Exercise Session,” 1975. © Flip Schulke
“Mary Workman Holds a Jar of Undrinkable Water That Comes from Her Well, and Has Filed A Damage Suit Against the Hanna Coal Company…,” 10/1973. © Erik Calonius
“Campers in Garner State Park,” 07/1972. © Marc St. Gil
“Children Play in Yard of Ruston Home…,” 08/1972. © Gene Daniels
“New Housing at Grant City, Staten Island – A Result of the Building Boom Following Completion of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge,” 06/1973. © Arthur Tress
“Children in Fort Smith Are Learning That Protecting the Environment Will Take Awareness…,” 06/1972. © Jim Olive