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.