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Your Government at Work: Documerica Chronicles 1970s America

The mandate for Documerica was intriguingly broad — “photographically document subjects of environmental concern” — and photographers responded with striking images covering everything from pot-smoking form to toxic smog.

The Environmental Protection Agency launched the Documerica project in 1971 as a way to assess the environmental state of the nation. For five years, more than 70 photographers went around the country capturing our grand mess of national character: greased-pig contests, “no gas” signs, sewage plants, coal miners at work, Jesse Jackson preaching up a storm.

“Two Girls Smoking Pot During an Outing in Cedar Woods near Leakey, Texas,” by Marc St. Gil

“Miners Line Up to Go Into the Elevator Shaft at the Virginia-Pocahontas Coal Company Mine #4 near Richlands, Virginia,” by Jack Corn

“Smog Hangs Over Louisville And Ohio River, September 1972,” by William Strode

“Water cooling towers of the John Amos Power Plant loom over Poca, WV, home…” by Harry Schaefer

“Michigan Avenue, Chicago” (couple on street),” by Perry Riddle

“Harvesting a Palo Verde Valley wheat field…” by Charles O’Rear

“A Small Park on Sheepshead Bay,” by Arthur Tress

The resulting work made the rounds at the time and then moldered in the National Archives for several decades. After a heroic effort to scan more than 15,000 color transparencies and  B&W negatives, however, the collection is now out for world to enjoy.

Thousands of the images are gathered in a Flickr gallery organized by photographer, and the National Archives is hosting a physical exhibit through September. If you lived through the 1970s, the images will provide endless opportunity for nostalgic reverie mixed with “What the hell were we thinking?” moments.

If you’re too young to have been there, well…a lot of it made sense at the time.


Image credits: Header photograph is “Interior of Graffiti-Marked Subway Car” by Erik Calonius. All images courtesy the National Archives/EPA

[via PetaPixel]

[via PetaPixel]

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