“The visual echo of the mission of the EPA.”
That’s how one photographer described the Environmental Protection Agency’s Documerica project. Launched in 1972, the plan was spectacularly ambitious: give 100 photographers a camera, rolls and rolls of film, and send them to every corner of the country to document America’s “environmental happenings and non-happenings.”
By 1977, when the picture-palooza project ended, more than 80,000 images had been snapped. Some were displayed in exhibitions across the country, but most were forgotten until recently, when more than 15,000 of the photos were rediscovered by Jerry Simmons, an archives specialist at the National Archives and Records Administration.
Here are six stark reminders of the American landscape before the EPA’s legislation began to curb unrestrained resource use and industrial pollution.