DOCUMERICA, and why we should do this constantly, part 2.

Posted by on Aug 10, 2011 in Gail Quagliata | No Comments

So as I was saying earlier, Documerica was a project launched by the EPA in the early 1970s to call attention to the pollution problems plaguing the U.S. in the same way the FSA photographers had so famously revealed the plight of the rural poor during the Depression. But why don’t we (not the royal “We,” of course, but people like me, let’s say), as products of an American public education or even simply as photographers born into the Reagan/MTV/Pacman era, know the furrowed brow of John H. White‘s “Black Youngster Taking Out the Trash On Chicago’s South Side,” like we know the furrowed brow of Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother“?

Anyway, while our country is broke, I’m beyond certain there are enough freelance photographers to capture every single foreclosed home, shuttered factory, bizarro weather-stricken farm, and nouveau immigrant tenement-style dwelling to fill another wing (data center?) of the National Archives. In the meantime, here are some of the works completed in the early 70s by brilliant photojournalist John H. White, under the loose umbrella of “A Portrait of Black Chicago.” Most remarkable to me is White’s eye for the city’s gritty beauty, so tenuous in a time when it was barely healed from the post-King assassination riots that damaged much of the poorer sections of this deeply segregated city.

The idea of creating jobs for artists through the government seems completely untenable  now – as does the idea of my generation having Social Security, of course, but the lofty goal of reaching the population through art and actually digging into U.S. coffers to make this happen – HA! We should be doing this, because it’s another point of view, another unifying voice, a glimpse into something major corporate media sources might not be interested in pursuing, and (selfishly for those of us who don’t have a marketable manual skill or something) some greater validation to the elusive pursuit of that decisive moment. On a massive, government-sponsored scale, even. Public art doesn’t have to suck and exist exclusively in the realm of tourist-pandering kitsch or inoffensive abstract sculptures that might fit nicely inside that government building’s courtyard, really.

DOCUMERICA, and why don’t we do this anymore, part 1.

Posted by on Aug 8, 2011 in Gail Quagliata | No Comments

From 1971-1977, The Environmental Protection Agency employed nearly 100 freelance photographers to “photographically document subjects of environmental concern” around the United States. This ambitious (if ambiguous) project, which, to me seems so similar to the iconic photographic work undertaken by the “Information Department” of the Farm Security Administration from 1935-1944, yielded some amazing work that really should be seen more. The U.S. National Archives made much of the work available online, oddly, through its Flickr account. Here are some of the images taken by Michael Philip Manheim, whose 1973 assignment was “to document the noise pollution crises in the East Boston neighborhood around Neptune Road.” A bit of research reveals that the “noise pollution” in question was that produced by Logan International Airport, and that, nearly 40 years after Boston native Manheim was tasked with scrutinizing an aural problem with his camera, noise has beaten out humanity – the neighborhood is essentially vacant as the remaining homes were bought out and transformed into airport land.