The Documerica Photography Project
Stearns History Museum is excited to bring you the Smithsonian Traveling Exhibit, ?ÄúSearching for the ?Äò70s: The Documerica Photography Project,?Äù which opens Saturday at the Stearns History Museum.
Images of everyday life in 1970s America evoke disco dancing and inflation, protests and bell-bottoms, gas shortages and suburban sprawl. At a time when the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal wore on the national psyche, a burgeoning movement to protect the natural environment was gaining force.
A new Smithsonian traveling exhibition, ?ÄúSearching for the Seventies: The DOCUMERICA Photography Project,?Äù takes a look at the ?Äô70s using 90 remarkable color photographs taken for a federal photography project called Project DOCUMERICA (1971?Äì1977). The exhibition, which is a collaboration with the National Archives and Records Administration, will open May 20, at Stearns History Museum in St. Cloud, and remain on view through July 30, before continuing on its 15-city national tour.
Created by the Environmental Protection Agency, Project DOCUMERICA was born out of the decade?Äôs environmental awakening, producing striking photographs of many of that era?Äôs environmental problems and achievements. Drawing its inspiration from the Great Depression-era Farm Security Administration photography project, DOCUMERICA photographers created a portrait of America in the early and mid-?Äô70s. About 70 well-known photographers, including John Corn, Lyntha Scott Eiler, Danny Lyon, Flip Schulke and John H. White, completed 115 separate assignments between 1972 and 1977. They took shots of small Midwestern towns, barrios in the Southwest and coal mining communities in Appalachia. Their assignments were as varied as African American life in Chicago, urban renewal in Kansas City, commuters in Washington, D.C., and migrant farm workers in Colorado.
What emerged was a moving and textured portrait of America. Capturing a rapidly changing society with surprising resonances to the present, ?ÄúSearching for the Seventies: The DOCUMERICA Photography Project?Äù is a sampling of images culled from a trove of thousands. DOCUMERICA photos include expected images of smog, polluted rivers and waste dumps. But the photos also capture the decade?Äôs fashions, trends and lifestyles. From smokestacks to leisure suits, these images are a fascinating time capsule of ?Äô70s America.
The exhibition?Äôs three sections are named after popular songs of the time:
?Ä¢ ?ÄúBall of Confusion?Äù documents the tumultuous environmental, political and social reality of the ?Äô70s. The energy crises, slow economic growth and high unemployment were themes pursued by many of the photographers. They brought issues such as the future of cities, gender equality, abortion and gay rights into crisp focus.
?Ä¢ ?ÄúEverybody Is a Star?Äù showcases vibrant and diverse examples of selfexpression, bell-bottoms, bare midriffs, mini dresses and bright colors, all were in stark contrast to the buttoned-up fashions and accompanying societal norms of the 1950s and early ?Äô60s. The ethos of the ?Äô70s was ?Äúdo your own thing.?Äù Some of the DOCUMERICA photographers were drawn to subject that emphasized growing appreciation of ethnic and cultural diversity.
?Ä¢ ?ÄúPave Paradise?Äù illustrates the fragmented landscape of America in the ?Äô70s. Much as today, many Americans had romanticized notions of an idyllic life in small-town America. But small-town reality was often one of poverty, pollution and quickly dwindling populations. The photographers also exposed the stark differences between sprawling suburbs and crumbling inner cities of the ?Äô70s. They trained their cameras on the great vistas and natural beauty of the American landscape, capturing the threat of development and environmental damage done in the name of progress.
?ÄúSearching for the Seventies: The DOCUMERICA Photography Project?Äù is a collaboration between SITES and the National Archives and Records Administration, which now holds the original DOCUMERICA photographic materials and administrative records. The archival records and some 22,000 slides, in addition to negatives, prints and microfiche, are stored in the stacks of the National Archives in College Park, Md. Almost 16,000 of the DOCUMERICA images can be viewed on the Archives?Äô website and on Flickr.