DOCUMERICA Photography Project

On Friday, March 8, 2013, the National Archives will unveil a new photographic exhibition, “Searching for the Seventies: The DOCUMERICA Photography Project.” Located in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, “Searching for the Seventies” is free and open to the public, and runs through September 8, 2013.

“Hitchhiker with his dog, ‘Tripper,’ on U.S. 66. U.S. 66 crosses the Colorado River at Topock.” Charles O’Rear, Yuma County, Arizona, May 1972

“Searching for the Seventies” takes a new look at the 1970s using remarkable color photographs taken for a Federal photography project called Project DOCUMERICA (1971-1977). Created by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), DOCUMERICA was born out of the decade’s environmental awakening, producing striking photographs of many of that era’s environmental problems and achievements. Drawing its inspiration from the depression era Farm Security Administration photography project, project photographers created a portrait of America in the early-and-mid-1970s. They took shots of small Midwestern towns, barrios in the Southwest, and coal mining communities in Appalachia. Their assignments were as varied as African American life in Chicago, urban renewal in Kansas City, commuters in Washington, DC, and migrant farm workers in Colorado.

DOCUMERICA photos include expected images of smog, polluted rivers, and waste dumps. But the photos also capture the decade’s fashions, trends, and lifestyles. From smokestacks to bell bottoms and leisure suits, these images are a fascinating time capsule of 1970s America.

“Searching for the Seventies” is divided into three sections:
Ball of Confusion: The 1970s were marked by uncertainties: unemployment, inflation, and energy crises, and the costs of American affluence. Uncertainties extended to cultural issues, as Americans responded to the Civil Rights movement and questioned traditional attitudes toward women, youth, sexuality, marriage, and the family. DOCUMERICA photographers noticed and recorded many of the issues that were on the minds of seventies Americans.

Everybody Is a Star: Americans began to embrace differences and strive for personal freedom in the 1970s. In fashion, counter-cultural styles of the late 1960s spread out from college campuses and cities to Main Street and the suburbs, as men grew beards and long hair, and women embraced mini-skirts and pantsuits. The African American civil rights movement inspired women, gays and lesbians, seniors, Hispanics, Native Americans, and the disabled to push for more inclusion in American life. DOCUMERICA’s color portraits highlighted greater appreciation of diversity and the different ways people chose to “do their own thing.”

Pave Paradise: In the early 1970s, suburbs were affluent and growing, but cities were in decline—financially pressured, poverty-stricken, and crime-ridden. Many places of great natural beauty became threatened by development and environmental damage. The automobile’s influence was everywhere. Cars caused congestion, polluted the environment, consumed oil, and encouraged sprawl. DOCUMERICA photographs depicted this fragmented landscape. They show scenic splendor and ugliness; urban revitalization and decay; and suburban sprawl and nostalgia for small-town America.

The exhibit also highlights the work of four DOCUMERICA photographers: Jack Corn, John H. White, Lyntha Scott Eiler, and Tom Hubbard.

The Archives Shop will feature an exhibition catalog and related products in conjunction with “Searching for the Seventies.” All Archives Shop proceeds support the National Archives Experience and educational programming at the National Archives.

Nearly 16,000 DOCUMERICA images have been digitized by the National Archives and are available online by:
location [www.archives.gov/research/arc/topics/environment/documerica-geographic.html],
topic [www.archives.gov/research/arc/topics/environment/documerica-topics.html], and
photographer [www.archives.gov/research/arc/topics/environment/documerica-geographic.html].

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