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Capturing America
August 8, 2013 9:34 AM   Subscribe

In 1971, the newly-created US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hired a bunch of freelance photographers to collectively document environmental issues around the country. They were given free rein to shoot whatever they wanted, and the project, named Documerica, lasted through 1977. After 40 years, the EPA is now encouraging photographers to take current versions of the original Documerica photos and are showcasing them on flickr at State of the Environment. There are location challenges, and a set has been created with some of the submissions, making side-by-side comparisons.

Via this post at MeFi favorite The Picture Show at NPR. The entire Picture Show blog is truly worth exploring. They cover an incredibly diverse range of topics through brief picture galleries.

Search the full Documerica archives here, or browse by topic. An exhibition of some 'Documerica' and 'State of the Environment' photos: "Searching for the Seventies: The Documerica Photo Project" is now open through September at the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery of the National Archive Building in Washington D.C.

Documerica, previously on MeFi.
posted by zarq (16 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thanks for this post. Always happy to hear about a new exhibition sometime other than three months after it closes.
posted by C'est la D.C. at 9:44 AM on August 8, 2013


I know that some folks really dislike mystery meat in FPP's, but I didn't want to flood the post with unrelated text, so here are the links in the third sentence in the second graph for anyone who is curious:

* Illuminating the underworld in a deep dark French cave
* An octogenarian's opus: A portrait of Newburgh, NY
* Voices of an explosion-covered people (Photos of people who came within 2 kilometers (approximately 1.25 miles) of the bombs dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki within two weeks of the explosion)
* This is not just a story about prostitution (pics are SFW, but there is a link to the photographer's gallery, and that is NSFW)
* The Palestine that's not in the headlines
* The spirit of China's Sufi shrines
* 100 Words: The life of a sibling with disability
* Revisiting Wounded Knee 40 years later
* How a female photographer sees her Afghanistan
* In Hindu ritual, Nepali women are banished once a month
* Catching the 'shadow' of a lost world (Edward Curtis)
* The art of photographing artists: portraits by Arnold Newman
posted by zarq at 9:48 AM on August 8, 2013


Yay. I love diving into Documerica stuff. I think I first found it on Wikipedia when I found this weird set of photos and backtracked them to the source. There are a bunch of photos of or near the town I live in. I should go take some photos.
posted by jessamyn at 9:57 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm suprised at how little has changed. You would think there would be dramatic differences in 40 years but in many of the photos the changes aren't that dramatic.
posted by smoothvirus at 10:04 AM on August 8, 2013


Looks like space is less polluted than it used to be.
posted by the jam at 10:21 AM on August 8, 2013


Looks like space is less polluted than it used to be.

Looks can be deceiving. It's actually horribly more polluted than ever and some regions of earth's orbit are now almost entirely unusable ever since China shot down that old weather satellite a few years back to show off its military strength (ultimately creating millions of very tiny pieces of dangerous space junk that now encircle the entire globe).
posted by saulgoodman at 10:31 AM on August 8, 2013


"Looks can be deceiving", indeed. While I know this is a well-intentioned project, and getting people more interested in being part of a solution or documentation or whatever is a good thing, it seems to fall into the same sort of trap that GWB/Republicans play: "Clear Skies" initiative. Not "Clean Air".

Clear implies visual. Hey, look - no pollution, I don't see no burning rivers anymore. No raging fires underground... Much less smog... etc... Get rid of dirty smoke, and there's no more problem!

We know Clean Air is different than "clear" skies. It means there are invisible pollutants that fuck with our ecosystem, and by relying on pictures, as wonderful and neat as the idea seems, might end up, counterintuitively reinforcing attitudes towards a healthy planetary ecosystem that we are trying to fight.

That said - beautiful pictures, and who can hate that?
posted by symbioid at 10:47 AM on August 8, 2013


I wish the federal government still hired photographers these days.
posted by girlmightlive at 11:10 AM on August 8, 2013


Why weren't the "old" photos run through basic color correction and adjustment? It's almost like they've all been put through a "red haze" filter.

For example one of the first pictures of what I think is a dam - here's the original and an "auto enhance"d version for comparison.
posted by mrbill at 11:22 AM on August 8, 2013


And Here's the Moakley Park picture, before-and-after one-click fixing.
posted by mrbill at 11:28 AM on August 8, 2013


mrbill: "Why weren't the "old" photos run through basic color correction and adjustment? It's almost like they've all been put through a "red haze" filter."

I'm guessing funding, expertise and time? Maybe. Also, they may not want to doctor what is essentially an historical record.

And Here's the Moakley Park picture, before-and-after one-click fixing.

Wow, that looks a hell of a lot better! Nice.
posted by zarq at 12:10 PM on August 8, 2013


Wow, that looks a hell of a lot better! Nice.

That's just Pixelmator (~$30) and it's auto-correction.
Would be interesting to see if Photoshop Elements' auto-fix does a better job.
posted by mrbill at 1:38 PM on August 8, 2013


Nice post, zarq.
posted by box at 2:44 PM on August 8, 2013


A combination of auto-levels with a very slight mid boost* has served me well in digitizing my dad's old stuff. It does seem like something that could be automated and work for the vast majority of the collection (especially considering there's no reason they couldn't retain the unmodified originals) but we are talking about a government agency here.

*For the record here's roughly how that would look on the same Mosley Park picture. (Although if it were me I'd probably fade the levels a little to retain a touch of that rosy glow. Kids these days need to know where that fake film look came from!)
posted by Lorin at 4:58 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


more here

great post, by the way
posted by One Thousand and One at 5:53 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


they may not want to doctor what is essentially an historical record.

Yes. That is my preference. You could make it look a lot better by making the skies bluer, and maybe putting some balloons and puppies in there.
posted by bongo_x at 9:50 AM on August 11, 2013


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