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August 29, 2013 12:22 PM   Subscribe

From The Atlantic, a series of photography that documents America in the 1970s: the Pacific Northwest | New York City | the Southwest | Chicago's African-American community | Texas

"The Documerica Project was put together by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1971, with a primary goal of documenting adverse effects of modern life on the environment, but photographers were also encouraged to record the daily life of ordinary people, capturing a broad snapshot of America."
posted by Blazecock Pileon (19 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Documerica previously
posted by various at 12:29 PM on August 29, 2013

As a teenager in the 70's, these are pretty nostalgic.
On the other hand, I think they overdid the instagram look on the color.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:41 PM on August 29, 2013

I like when the captions give hisotircal perspective, like a link to the same place today in Google street view, or the picture of a phone booth that mentions the first handheld mobile phone call being made one month earlier.

For all the relatively harmless things my mother was convinced I was going to break my neck on, I'm truly grateful we didn't live near this, because it would have been pretty damn tempting even to good little girls who could clearly see its neck-breaking potential, and she would have had a massive coronary every time she remembered it was there.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:44 PM on August 29, 2013

My grandparents recently sent me a DVD with a bunch of old photos they took during the years from 1951 to 1975 or so and had digitized. They lived and still live in Texas, and one of the sets was taken entirely during the winter of 1959, I think, in Beaumont, TX. Anyway, there's snow all over the ground, and everybody in the photos is very amused by the novelty of it all, but the most amazing thing about seeing those photos for me was that a line from Townes van Zandt's "Two Girls" suddenly clicked into place: "Beaumont's full of penguins, and I'm playing it by ear." I'd always thought it was just a bit of surreal imagery, but I realized then that Townes might very well have been referring to the same snowfall that I saw in those photos. It was a lot like the feeling of finding out that two of your good friends from different places already know each other.
posted by invitapriore at 1:04 PM on August 29, 2013 [7 favorites]

The first handheld mobile phone call in history was made one month prior to this photo, in midtown Manhattan, in April 1973, when Martin Cooper, a Motorola researcher made a call to his chief competitor Dr. Joel S. Engel, head of Bell Labs.

That throwaway comment on #21 in the NYC series would be an awesome FPP.
posted by elizardbits at 1:05 PM on August 29, 2013

That drugstore in Leakey Texas probably still looks like that.
posted by zabuni at 1:07 PM on August 29, 2013

The Underpants Monster, when I was a kid we would occasionally visit Houston, TX, and along side the highway just as you hit the west side of town there was a Giant Slide, very similar to the one in the pic you linked, but it seemed bigger. This was in the early 70s, and I got to ride it a couple of times because my indulgent mother was a very good sport. At the bottom they would give you an old burlap sack to slide down on, and you would climb the stairs to the top. I was so excited because I thought I was going to slide like hell down that thing, but it was a huge disappointment. As soon as you started gaining a little downhill momentum, you would slow down on the horizontal sections. Rip off.
posted by Daddy-O at 1:12 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

invitapriore, in 1985, San Antonio got 13.5 inches of snow over 2 days. I know that's nothing for folks in, say, Buffalo, but San Antonio doesn't have any snow plows or salt trucks, and most drivers have no idea how to drive in the snow. Usually any snow just melts as soon as it hits the ground, especially on the paved areas, but this time it was cold enough to stick. It was a nice unplanned vacation for most people. At the time, I had a job driving the base shuttle bus at Lackland AFB, and it took a while to drive the 2 miles to work. Once I got to work, the heavy bus didn't have any trouble getting through the slushy roads.

elizardbits, there have been several posts about that first cell phone call!
posted by Daddy-O at 1:32 PM on August 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

truly grateful we didn't live near this,

Would it be safer if it was a water slide?

Big Splash Singapore, where I spent most summer days if I wasn't terrorizing shopkeepers with my skateboard. This slide was actually pretty dangerous now that I think about it, because the "lifeguards" used to absolutely let us do anything we wanted on the slide.

We' start on the biggest tower and run and jump onto the slide, landing on our our knees and skim at a billion miles an hour to the first hump, which would then catapult us into the air so that we went from the first hump all the way to the second hump skimming / standing on our feet. At the second hump we go back to our rears and hit main pool fast enough to sometimes get all the way to the wall.

Then we did it again. I remain alive to this day.
posted by lstanley at 1:40 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Smoke from the burning of old auto batteries near Houston, April 1972.

I saw plenty of scenes like this where I grew up in the industrial hellscape that was the south side of Chicago and NW Indiana in the 1970s. Younger people today don't realize what a big difference the clean air and clean water acts made. You just don't see smokestacks belching black filth into the sky with wild abandon, trash dumped on the sides of highways and bodies of water filled with oily sludge like we did then.

It wasn't just the pollution acts that made a difference. The polluting steel mills and factories fought tooth and nail against those laws. Throughout the 70s and 80s, the thick black smoke from the steel mills slowly became white and gray smoke as they were forced to add scrubbers. But we always knew that they released the really bad shit at night, because that was when the air stank the worst. The air is not as bad now, thanks in great part to the collapse of heavy industry in the Midwest. They left behind a lot of superfund sites, though.
posted by double block and bleed at 2:36 PM on August 29, 2013 [7 favorites]

posted by KokuRyu at 3:01 PM on August 29, 2013

Growing up in British Columbia in the 70's and 80's, this is a scene I can remember well.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:04 PM on August 29, 2013

Heh. They got the caption for the Hollywood Freeway (101) wrong — the sign says it's a mile or so from Ventura, Lankershim and Barham, and they say "Ventura Beach," except that the photo is at like Studio City and I just drove past there last night. (Looks about the same.)
posted by klangklangston at 4:37 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Fishing craft crowd the Columbia River between Vancouver, Washington, and the Dalles, Oregon."

Vancouver and The Dalles are a long way apart. The Cascade Range is in between them. Is that all the better they can do?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:26 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I wonder where I can get one of those nifty "Turn off the damn lights" bumper stickers for the office.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 9:37 PM on August 29, 2013

Yeah, klang, I knew the instant I saw that sign it was the Cahuenga Pass, looking North. Ventura beach is several miles in the other direction.
posted by carsonb at 10:18 PM on August 29, 2013

From The Atlantic, a series of photography that documents America in the 1970s: the Pacific Northwest | New York City | the Southwest | Chicago's African-American community | Texas

Little known fact: In the 1970's in the U.S., the Southeast, Midwest and most of the Eastern Seaboard were invisible. *grumble grumble *grumble*,
posted by misha at 10:19 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

They weren't invisible. You just couldn't see them through the thick black smoke.
posted by double block and bleed at 4:09 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was nine and living in Seattle, with family in Portland and Vancouver BC and Everett when these pictures were taken so they provoke a bit of nostalgia. The tallest building in Seattle was at 1001 Fourth Avenue Plaza - the very dark building which was then known as the Seafirst building at far left here and more dramatically here. I can't find a reference but if I remember correctly the dark color of the building at 1001 Fourth led to differential heating and expansion as its four major facets were exposed to the sun [such as it is in Seattle] as the day progressed. In order to combat this the designers of the building included an elaborate radiation absorption / redistribution system using water whereby heat was absorbed from the warmer side of the building and conveyed to the cooler side. What struck me as odd as I remember is that this was done not only for climate control but also to increase the stability and therefore decrease the ageing of the building*

What the pictures that focus on pollution in the PNW don't and of course can't communicate is the damn smell. There were at least several pulp mills in Everett and the smokestacks emit a not pungent fart odor which, depending on the way the wind was blowing and distance from the source, was as inescapable as air.

*Please please correct me if I'm mistaken.
posted by vapidave at 1:15 PM on September 1, 2013

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