Tense Times in Graffiti Town
A forty-year-old photography project reveals a crime-ridden, urine-soaked subway system that makes today's look downright luxurious.
In 1971, as Americans became increasingly concerned with the effects of over-development, pollution and urban decay, the newly formed Environmental Protection Agency embarked on an ambitious project to “photographically document subjects of environmental concern” across the United States. Inspired by the famed Farm Security Administration photojournalism project, which documented American life during the Great Depression of the 1930s, “Documerica,” as the new initiative was called, sought to provide a comprehensive visual record of the country’s turbulent landscape during the 1970s.
The EPA hired freelance photographers to collect more than 20,000 images documenting the state of the environment in America. While polluted bays, rapidly-growing landfills, and spewing smokestacks were all in their purview, the photographers’ guidelines specified that they shoot under the principle that “Everything is connected to everything else. Urban clutter is con…
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