16 Photographs That Capture the Best and Worst of 1970s America
A new exhibit at the National Archives highlights an interesting decade—one that gave rise to the environmental movement and some awkward fashion
- By Megan Gambino
- Smithsonian.com, March 08, 2013
(“Children play in yard of Ruston home, while Tacoma smelter stack showers area with arsenic and lead residue.” Gene Daniels, Ruston, Washington, August 1972. Credit: National Archives)
Gifford Hampshire, or “Giff,” as he was called, was a farm kid living in Kansas during the 1930s. Dust Bowl scenes were familiar to him, so it is not surprising that he was taken with iconic images, like Dorothea Lange’s "Migrant Mother,” from the Farm Security Administration’s photography project in the 1930s.
“All his adult life, Hampshire had hoped to do something comparable,” says Bruce Bustard, a senior curator at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
Hampshire studied journalism at the University of Missouri in the late 1940s, where he rubbed shoulders with former FSA photographers, and, in the mid-1950s, he nabbed a prized position as a photo editor at National Geographic. But, it wasn’t until 1971, after he had joined the newly created Environmental Protection Agency, that Hampshire launched the national photography project that would become his legacy—DOCUMERICA.
“DOCUMERICA was born out of the environmental awakening of the 1970s,” explains Bustard. The EPA, for which Hampshire worked as deputy director of public affairs, invited photographers, from students to Pulitzer Prize winners, to pitch series that focused on “subjects of environmental concern.”
These proposals ranged from the overtly environmental—chronicling the goings-on at a car inspection station in Ohio—to looser, artistic explorations of tourism and suburban sprawl. Hampshire and his colleagues then doled out assignments, ranging from weeks to months in length. “The job paid $150 a day, plus expenses, and all the film you could shoot,” says Bustard.