Thursday, November 7, 2013

Documenting America



Docuamerica was a six-year photographic project supported by Gifford Hampshire, who hoped to bring the impact of environmental damage home by evoking Barry Commoner's laws of ecology.  Commoner had stated that "everything is connected to everything else."  By stressing the human dimension, Hampshire thought the project would more deeply touch Americans.

The National Archives resurrected the project this year, sponsoring a traveling exhibit and the EPA has created a "then and now" photo-sharing campaign on Flickr.  There were over 22,000 photos in the original collection, and with Flickr no doubt that will increase exponentially.

The 70s were a time of ecological awakening, with numerous attempts to spur interest in the environment.  Books like Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and Barry Commoner's Four Laws of Ecology became required reading.  Another great book of the era is E.F. Schumacher's Small is Beautiful, which promoted small sustainable economies, less reliant on fossil fuels.  The big event that decade was Expo '74 in Spokane, which stressed the environment, getting away from the high-tech themes of the past.  Jimmy Carter made sustainable design and renewable energy a signature part of his presidential term, only to be unceremoniously ripped apart when Reagan had the solar panels removed from the White House.

Apparently, Barry wasn't satisfied with Carter's administration either, mounting a third party candidacy in 1980.  He headed the Citizens Party ticket, and had La Donna Harris as a running mate.  This was their platform, but environmental awareness didn't top their list of issues.  They managed to get over 200,000 votes.

Fortunately, today there seems to be a renewed awareness that is becoming so persuasive that it is virtually impossible to ignore, although most Republicans still try to do so.  It is nice to see the EPA revisiting Docuamerica.

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