DOCUMERICA: A pictorial look at everyday life in 1970s America

In 1971, the United States Environmental Protection Agency announced its DOCUMERICA project, an ambitious endeavor intended to photographically observe Americans, their surroundings, and their daily impact on the environment.

George Washington Bridge in Heavy Smog, NYC, May 1973, by Chester Higgins

George Washington Bridge in Heavy Smog, NYC, May 1973, by Chester Higgins

With former National Geographic photo editor Gifford Hampshire at the helm, the project began in earnest in January of 1972, providing freelance photographers a per diem allowance and an unlimited supply of film.

Approaching Logan Airport. East Boston, MA, May 1973, by Michael Philip Manheim

Approaching Logan Airport. East Boston, MA, May 1973, by Michael Philip Manheim

By 1978, when the initiative was dissolved, these shooters had produced more than 20,000 images, nearly 16,000 of which have been digitized by the United States National Archives and can be viewed on their website. The Archives has also published many of these images, sorted by their respective photographers, on Flickr.

Fort Smith, AR, May 1972, by Jim Olive

Fort Smith, AR, May 1972, by Jim Olive

Downtown Parking Lot, Cincinnati, OH, August 1973, by Tom Hubbard

Downtown Parking Lot, Cincinnati, OH, August 1973, by Tom Hubbard

The EPA has also created a small collection on Flickr titled DOCUMERICA: Then and Now, which includes side-by-side comparisons of the original images with new ones taken in the last few years, noting the hits and misses of environmental awareness in the past 40 years. (The naturally-occurring color fades on the before images make the images look grimier than they really are, but the differences are still evident.)

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Rockport, MA, February 1973, by Deborah Parks; and September 2011, by Margo Palmer

Kennewick, WA, April 1973, by David Falconer; and June 2012, by Craig Leaper

Columbia River, Kennewick, WA, April 1973, by David Falconer; and June 2012, by Craig Leaper

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