Ruston, Washington

“Children play in yard of Ruston home, while Tacoma smelter stack showers area with arsenic and lead residue,” August 1972, via The U.S. National Archives Commons on flickr.

The photo was taken by Gene Daniels for DOCUMERICA, an early photography program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It is shown here with its original caption.

From 1972 to 1977, the EPA hired over 100 photographers to “document subjects of environmental concern.” They created an archive of about 20,000 images.

In addition to recording damage to the nation’s landscapes, the project captured “the era’s trends, fashions, problems, and achievements,” according to the Archives, which held an exhibit of the photos, “Searching for the Seventies,” in 2013.

4 thoughts on “Ruston, Washington

  1. Quite a caption that is… This is IN the year of the Club of Rome, but was the caption written before or after the publication of Limits to Growth? Wrong question, maybe: I always see that publication -and its presentation at the St. Gallen Symposium- as the starting point of environmental awareness. But there probably already was a broader movement by this time.

    With today’s eyes, what hits me in this particular image is the fact that I can’t get rid of the idea that the person on the left is… checking her[?] phone.
    (Plus: I wore similar brown corduroy pants a few years later!)

    1. The “original captions” that accompany the DOCUMERICA photos on flickr are nearly as interesting as the images. I believe they were written by the photographers around the time they were shooting.

      Today, I found the two instructions Gifford Hamshire, a former National Geographic picture editor and the project’s founding director, gave his photographers in 1972:

      “First, establish a 1972 baseline of the environmental problems and accomplishments in the geographical area assigned to you. Second, look for pictures wherever you are, for whatever purpose. Where you see people, there’s an environmental element to which they are connected. The great Documerica pictures will show the connection and what it means.”

      I am absolutely the same about seeing smartphones and tablets in 19th and 20th c. photos (This lady is looking at her iPad:

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