DOCUMERICA was a program sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency to “photographically document subjects of environmental concern” in the United States of America from about 1972 to 1977.
The images were made by approximately 70 well-known photographers contracted by the EPA for this project. Photographers included Danny Lyon, Gene Daniels, Marc St. Gil, Bill Strode, Charles O’Rear, Jack Corn, Tomas Sennett, Yoichi Okamote, Ken Hayman, and John H. White.
Like the early Federal photographic project of the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression, some of the DOCUMERICA photographers interpreted their mission rather broadly, and sometimes artistically. Many preserve a distinct visual record of time and place.
It’s the distinct snapshot of a place and time that I especially love about Lyntha Scott Eiler’s photographs of the motorists of Hamilton County, Ohio as they struggle to comply with the new emission laws brought in 1975. Eiler took hundred of photos of car drivers as their cars were inspected and summarily passed or failed their tests. It’s this crystallisation of the style and of a dying era in America that makes these photos so cool.
These photos remind me more than a little bit of The Virgin Suicides. The mood, while not as hazy, is still reminiscent of a fug that people had to walk through, whether it was born of mass consumption, the end of Vietnam War or the slow realisation that the world was environmentally ailing.
It’s a freeze frame of time – and a stylish one. There’s just something about cars and Americana, isn’t there?
You can search the thousands of DOCUMERICA photos by photographer at the U.S National Archives website here.
Visit Lyntha Scott Eiler’s DOCUMERICA flickr album here.