SEATTLE — Some of the photos illustrate striking environmental degradation.
Others show pristine parts of America that have since been marred by environmental catastrophes.
And some photos simply capture beautiful landscapes that call to mind Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.”
Together they make up “Documerica,” the first in-depth pictorial examination of the environment in the United States. The nationwide environmental documentary photo project was meant to give a sense for what life was like in the 1970s at the start of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Select photos from the collection are on national tour and can be viewed this week at Seattle’s Discovery Park Learning Center.
Brian Guy, a naturalist for the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department, was at the center the day it opened. “It makes me think about the hopefulness of the beginning of the EPA,” he said as he perused the images.
“I was struck by the mosaic of moments,” said the EPA’s Jeanethe Falvey. She organized the traveling exhibit. “I want others to get a chance to know what Documerica is about and experience the emotions that come with the images.”
The EPA hired dozens of photographers to capture thousands of images related to the environment and everyday life in America at a time when bold environmental laws were being enacted, like the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. The Documerica collection contains more than 15,000 images. Many of the photos can be viewed online.
The purpose was to establish a visual baseline of U.S. environmental conditions. The hope was that these photos would capture the state of the environment and provide Congress and the public with a way to measure the progress of the EPA decades later.
“Photographs tells us a story in one frame. They give us a glimpse of what really happened in the past,” said Carol Buswell, an education specialist for the National Archives of Seattle. “These photos are guaranteed to be historic. They’re not messed with. They include the good, the bad and the ugly.”
As Buswell walked through the exhibit for the first time, she said, “We’ve come a long way in the last 40 years.”
The EPA is kicking off a modern version of the historic Documerica project to help mark the progress of the EPA. They’re calling it the “State of the Environment,” and the EPA has put out a nationwide call for photos of daily life and the images of the present-day environment. The challenge is to match places and scenes from of Documerica images with images of the present.
Citizen photographers can submit photos online through 2013.
(KCTS 9 intern Nicole Gaddie contributed to this report.)
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