Documenting the Environmental Crisis of the 1970s


From 1971 to 1977, the Environmental Protection Agency asked freelance photographers to shoot images related to environmental issues that were overwhelming the turbulent ’70s. The Documerica project is a fascinating look at how various communities across America coped with the crises that plagued their small towns and big cities. While there are a fair share of disturbing moments in the striking photo series, there’s also a lot of beauty amongst the chaos. Click through to see a smoggy New York skyline that looks like sweet, perfumed death, one of the earliest electric cars, and indulge your love of dirty subway scenes.

Image credit: Marc St. Gil [Spotted via The Atlantic]

“Burning discarded automobile batteries.”

Houston, Texas 1972

Image credit: Michael Philip Manheim

“Constitution Beach — within sight and sound of Logan Airport’s takeoff runway.”

Boston, Massachusetts 1973

Image credit: Arthur Tress

“Abandoned car in Jamaica Bay.”

New York, New York 1973

Image credit: Chester Higgins

“The George Washington Bridge in heavy smog. View toward the New Jersey side of the Hudson River.”

New York, New York 1973

Image credit: Frank Lodge

An experimental electric car from the First Symposium on Low Pollution Power Systems Development exhibit.

Detroit, Michigan 1973

Image credit: Marc St. Gil

“The Atlas Chemical Company belches smoke across pasture land in foreground. The plant is referred to as “Old Darky” in the community, because black soot from the plant covers everything nearby. One farmer claims he lost several cows due to soot and chemicals from Atlas.”

Marshall, Texas 1972

Image credit: Wil Blanche

“Seagulls scavenge at Croton Landfill Operation along the Hudson River.”

Westchester, New York 1973

Image credit: Erik Calonius

New York, New York 1973

Image credit: David Hiser

“Empty steel beer and soft drink cans are being used to build experimental housing near Taos, New Mexico. Designer Michael Reynolds stands next to an interior wall in one of the structures. The inside walls are built with cans in the position shown. The outside walls are constructed using an eight can unit as a building block. Some 70,000 cans are needed to build a house which Reynolds says can be built as much as 20% cheaper than conventional homes.”

Taos, New Mexico 1974

Image credit: Erik Calonius

“125th Street elevated train platform.”

New York, New York 1973

Image credit: Erik Calonius

Hendrysburg, Ohio 1973

Image credit: Tom Hubbard

“Downtown parking lot.”

Cincinnati, Ohio 1973