DOCUMERICA 1971-1977: Dystopian Images Of America’s War On The Environment

In November 1971, America’s new Environmental Protection Agency created the DOCUMERICA Project. The aim was to record and show human impact on the environment. The programme, which ran from 1971 to 1977,  hired around 70 freelance photographers ($150-a day and all the film you could need) to record the state of the USA’s attitude to nature.

Gifford Hampshire, the Project’s Director, told the photographers, including Flip Schulke, John Corn, John H. White, and Lyntha Scott Eiler: “Where you see people, there’s an environmental element to which they are connected.”

Gifford had endured Kansas during the 1930s Dust Bowl, immortalised in Migrant Mother. That experience and his work as a photo editor for National Geographic drove him to produce the images you see below.

 

Cut-Rate Gas Station Operates Out of Bus, 06/1972 Original Caption: Cut-Rate Gas Station Operates Out of Bus, 06/1972 U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier: 412-DA-3666 Photographer: St. Gil, Marc, 1924-1992 Subjects: Marshall (Harrison county, Texas, United States) inhabited place Environmental Protection Agency

Cut-Rate Gas Station Operates Out of Bus, 06/1972. St. Gil, Marc, 1924-1992. Marshall (Harrison county, Texas, United States)

Water cooling towers of the John Amos Power Plant loom over a home located across the Kanawha River, near Poca, West Virginia, in August of 1973. # Harry Schaefer:NARA

Water cooling towers of the John Amos Power Plant loom over a home located across the Kanawha River, near Poca, West Virginia, in August of 1973. # Harry Schaefer:NARA

One of four bicyclists holds her ears against the roar of the jet taking off from National Airport in Washington, District of Columbia, in May of 1973. # John Neubauer:NARA

One of four bicyclists holds her ears against the roar of the jet taking off from National Airport in Washington, District of Columbia, in May of 1973. # John Neubauer:NARA

Clark Avenue and Clark Avenue bridge, looking east from West 13th Street, obscured by industrial smoke, in Cleveland, Ohio, in July of 1973. # Frank J. Aleksandrowicz:NARA

Clark Avenue and Clark Avenue bridge, looking east from West 13th Street, obscured by industrial smoke, in Cleveland, Ohio, in July of 1973. # Frank J. Aleksandrowicz: NARA

A man rides in a graffiti-covered subway car in New York City in May of 1973. # Erik Calonius:NARA

A man rides in a graffiti-covered subway car in New York City in May of 1973. # Erik Calonius:NARA

Construction on Lower Manhattan's West Side, just north of the World Trade Center, May 1973. # Wil Blanche:NARA

Construction on Lower Manhattan’s West Side, just north of the World Trade Center, May 1973. # Wil Blanche:NARA

Construction on Lower Manhattan's West Side, just north of the World Trade Center, May 1973. # Wil Blanche:NARA

Construction on Lower Manhattan’s West Side, just north of the World Trade Center, May 1973. # Wil Blanche:NARA

 

Prospect Creek Camp, lower foreground. In this eastern view the pipeline and road will run below the low hills in the distance left to right, north to south. Photo taken in August of 1973. # Dennis Cowals/NARA

Prospect Creek Camp, lower foreground. In this eastern view the pipeline and road will run below the low hills in the distance left to right, north to south. Photo taken in August of 1973. #
Dennis Cowals/NARA

Smoke and gas from the burning of discarded automobile batteries pours into the sky near Houston, Texas, in July of 1972. # Marc St. Gil/NARA

Smoke and gas from the burning of discarded automobile batteries pours into the sky near Houston, Texas, in July of 1972. #
Marc St. Gil/NARA

Day becomes night when industrial smog is heavy in North Birmingham, Alabama, as on this day in July of 1972. Sitting adjacent to the U.S. Pipe plant, this is the most heavily polluted area of the city. # LeRoy Woodson/NARA

Day becomes night when industrial smog is heavy in North Birmingham, Alabama, as on this day in July of 1972. Sitting adjacent to the U.S. Pipe plant, this is the most heavily polluted area of the city. #
LeRoy Woodson/NARA

Signs crowd the roadway in this Las Vegas street scene, shot in May of 1972. # Charles O'Rear/NARA

Signs crowd the roadway in this Las Vegas street scene, shot in May of 1972. #
Charles O’Rear/NARA

A train on the Southern Pacific Railroad passes a five-acre pond, which was used as a dump site by area commercial firms, near Ogden, Utah, in April of 1974. The acid water, oil, acid clay sludge, dead animals, junked cars and other dump debris were cleaned up by several governmental groups under the supervision of the EPA. Some 1,200,000 gallons of liquid were pumped from the site, neutralized and taken to a disposal site. # Bruce McAllister/NARA

A train on the Southern Pacific Railroad passes a five-acre pond, which was used as a dump site by area commercial firms, near Ogden, Utah, in April of 1974. The acid water, oil, acid clay sludge, dead animals, junked cars and other dump debris were cleaned up by several governmental groups under the supervision of the EPA. Some 1,200,000 gallons of liquid were pumped from the site, neutralized and taken to a disposal site. #
Bruce McAllister/NARA

"Industrial smog blacks out homes adjacent to North Birmingham pipe plant. This is the most heavily polluted area of the city." Leroy Woodson, Birmingham, Alabama, July 1972. National Archives, Records of the Environmental Protection Agency

“Industrial smog blacks out homes adjacent to North Birmingham pipe plant. This is the most heavily polluted area of the city.”
Leroy Woodson, Birmingham, Alabama, July 1972. National Archives, Records of the Environmental Protection Agency

 

Underground in the Virginia-Pocahontas Coal Company Mine #3, near Richlands, Virginia, in April 1974. The tunnel is 1,250 feet below the surface and one-and-a-half miles from the elevator shaft that brings the miners to and from work. # Jack Corn/NARA

Underground in the Virginia-Pocahontas Coal Company Mine #3, near Richlands, Virginia, in April 1974. The tunnel is 1,250 feet below the surface and one-and-a-half miles from the elevator shaft that brings the miners to and from work. #
Jack Corn/NARA

One of several highrise apartments whose construction was stopped by city ordinance to preserve Breezy Point Peninsula in Queens, New York, for public recreational use. Photo taken in May of 1973. # Arthur Tress/NARA

One of several highrise apartments whose construction was stopped by city ordinance to preserve Breezy Point Peninsula in Queens, New York, for public recreational use. Photo taken in May of 1973. #
Arthur Tress/NARA

A crowded Hollywood freeway, seen in California in May of 1972. # Gene Daniels/NARA

A crowded Hollywood freeway, seen in California in May of 1972. #
Gene Daniels/NARA 

A view down Colfax Avenue, in Denver, Colorado, in April of 1972. # Bruce McAllister/NARA

A view down Colfax Avenue, in Denver, Colorado, in April of 1972. #
Bruce McAllister/NARA

The Peabody Coal Company in the Black Mesa area of Northeastern Arizona, in May of 1972. # Lyntha Scott Eiler/NARA

The Peabody Coal Company in the Black Mesa area of Northeastern Arizona, in May of 1972. #
Lyntha Scott Eiler/NARA

 

An abandoned car sits in New York's Jamaica Bay, in June of 1973. # Arthur Tress/NARA

An abandoned car sits in New York’s Jamaica Bay, in June of 1973. #
Arthur Tress/NARA

From the National Water Quality Laboratory, a June 1973, photo of the severely deformed spine of a Jordanella fish, the result of methyl mercury present in the water. # Donald Emmerich/NARA

From the National Water Quality Laboratory, a June 1973, photo of the severely deformed spine of a Jordanella fish, the result of methyl mercury present in the water. #
Donald Emmerich/NARA

An experimental wind tunnel device built at Colorado State University, seen in June of 1972. Smoke is piped into this model of the city of Houston, allowing scientists to study the effect of buildings and city layout on velocity and direction of smog dispersion. # Bill Gillette/NARA

An experimental wind tunnel device built at Colorado State University, seen in June of 1972. Smoke is piped into this model of the city of Houston, allowing scientists to study the effect of buildings and city layout on velocity and direction of smog dispersion. #
Bill Gillette/NARA

The LIMTV (linear induction motor test vehicle) is tested at the Department of Transportation's high speed ground test center near Pueblo, Colorado, in March of 1973. The experimental vehicle is designed to operate at speeds up to 250 miles per hour, using electro-magnetic forces for noiseless propulsion. # Bruce McAllister/NARA

The LIMTV (linear induction motor test vehicle) is tested at the Department of Transportation’s high speed ground test center near Pueblo, Colorado, in March of 1973. The experimental vehicle is designed to operate at speeds up to 250 miles per hour, using electro-magnetic forces for noiseless propulsion. #
Bruce McAllister/NARA

Mount Rainer and Tacoma's industrial waterfront, in Washington State in April of 1973. # Doug Wilson/NARA SHARE PHOTO

Mount Rainer and Tacoma’s industrial waterfront, in Washington State in April of 1973. #
Doug Wilson/NARA
SHARE PHOTO

Cars were jammed even more than usual into every spare space at a downtown commercial parking lot during a bus strike in Washington, District of Columbia, in May 1974. Some 250,000 people were forced to find alternate forms of transportation. Monumental traffic jams resulted as drivers learned there were more cars than legal places to park. # Jim Pickerell/NARA

Cars were jammed even more than usual into every spare space at a downtown commercial parking lot during a bus strike in Washington, District of Columbia, in May 1974. Some 250,000 people were forced to find alternate forms of transportation. Monumental traffic jams resulted as drivers learned there were more cars than legal places to park. #
Jim Pickerell/NARA

Manhattan Bridge tower in Brooklyn, New York City, framed through nearby buildings, in June of 1974. # Danny Lyon/NARA

Manhattan Bridge tower in Brooklyn, New York City, framed through nearby buildings, in June of 1974. #
Danny Lyon/NARA

31

A sidewalk in the Bronx becomes a playground for these youngsters, in April of 1973. # Dan McCoy/NARA

A sidewalk in the Bronx becomes a playground for these youngsters, in April of 1973. #
Dan McCoy/NARA

This house off Route 250, near Cadiz, Ohio, has had its windows and doors knocked out, legally qualifying it as "derelict." A coal company was stripping the land around it in October of 1973. # Erik Calonius/NARA

This house off Route 250, near Cadiz, Ohio, has had its windows and doors knocked out, legally qualifying it as “derelict.” A coal company was stripping the land around it in October of 1973. #
Erik Calonius/NARA

An illegal dumping area, seen just off the New Jersey Turnpike, facing Manhattan across the Hudson River, in March of 1973. To the south is the landfill area of the proposed Liberty State Park -- which was built and opened in 1976. # Gary Miller/NARA

An illegal dumping area, seen just off the New Jersey Turnpike, facing Manhattan across the Hudson River, in March of 1973. To the south is the landfill area of the proposed Liberty State Park — which was built and opened in 1976. # Gary Miller/NARA

An illegal dumping area, seen just off the New Jersey Turnpike, facing Manhattan across the Hudson River, in March of 1973. To the south is the landfill area of the proposed Liberty State Park -- which was built and opened in 1976. # Gary Miller/NARA

An illegal dumping area, seen just off the New Jersey Turnpike, facing Manhattan across the Hudson River, in March of 1973. To the south is the landfill area of the proposed Liberty State Park — which was built and opened in 1976. #
Gary Miller/NARA

An abandoned "Giant Slide" at Coney Island marks the decline of the area's recreational use in May of 1973. # Arthur Tress/NARA

An abandoned “Giant Slide” at Coney Island marks the decline of the area’s recreational use in May of 1973. #
Arthur Tress/NARA

The City of Seattle and Interstate Highway 5, with Elliott Bay at right, seen in June of 1973. # Doug Wilson/NARA

The City of Seattle and Interstate Highway 5, with Elliott Bay at right, seen in June of 1973. #
Doug Wilson/NARA

An aerial view of old cars secured along a bank of the Cuyahoga River to prevent erosion at Jaite North of Peninsula, Ohio, near Cleveland, seen in September of 1975. The river passes through private property at this point. The river and valley are part of the newly created Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area, a 20-mile stretch of largely undeveloped land between the metropolitan districts of Cleveland and Akron. # Frank J. Aleksandrowicz/NARA

An aerial view of old cars secured along a bank of the Cuyahoga River to prevent erosion at Jaite North of Peninsula, Ohio, near Cleveland, seen in September of 1975. The river passes through private property at this point. The river and valley are part of the newly created Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area, a 20-mile stretch of largely undeveloped land between the metropolitan districts of Cleveland and Akron. #
Frank J. Aleksandrowicz/NARA

Near Boston's Logan Airport, an airplane comes in for a landing over homes on Neptune Road in May of 1973. # Michael Philip Manheim/NARA

Near Boston’s Logan Airport, an airplane comes in for a landing over homes on Neptune Road in May of 1973. #
Michael Philip Manheim/NARA

Via: The Atlantic