When the EPA was established in 1970 to address rising concerns about pollution, it ushered in the modern American environmental movement. The agency also committed itself to documenting the nation’s environmental problems: Between 1971-1977, an EPA-sponsored project called DOCUMERICA chronicled the culture and people of the era as it captured the conditions of their living environments.
The National Archives offers a fresh look at this trove of full-color prints in “Searching for the Seventies: The DOCUMERICA Photography Project.” The show reflects a decade that changed the conversation about preserving the environment and made conservation part of American culture:
Leroy Woodson, “Birmingham Smog” (1972) “The photographer was asked to go down and photograph the environmental conditions created by the steel mills” in Alabama, says exhibition curator Bruce Bustard. “It always reminds me of the photographs from the 1930s of people going through the Dust Bowl, only in this case it is smog.”
Flip Shulke, “Elderly Ladies in South Beach” (1973) “At that point, South Beach [in Miami] was a mecca for retired people from the North,” Bustard says. “They all have these wonderful different expressions on their faces. I can’t imagine too many places that are more different than South Beach in 1973 and South Beach 10, 20 or 40 years later. It’s such an amazingly different place now.”
Charles O’Rear, “Man with Dog” (1972) “He’s a hitchhiker the photographer met on the road in Arizona,” Bustard says. “His photograph captures things about the youth culture of the 1970s: issues about work, about masculinity. He has long hair, he is barefoot — and his dog’s name is Tripper.” National Archives, 700 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; through Sept. 8, free; 1-866-272-6272. (Archives)