Between 1971 and 1977, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hired the nation's top photojournalists to photograph and document "subjects of environmental concern" across the American landscape. The result was "Documerica," a diverse collection of more than 15,000 images portraying the state of the environment.
Thirty-five years later, the program has been revived with a new name: "State of the Environment." This time, anyone with a digital camera or camera-equipped smartphone has been invited by the EPA to participate, and from Nov. 12 through Nov. 20, a traveling exhibition showcasing some of the best submitted work to date -- as well as a selection of images snapped in the 1970s -- will be on display in the atrium of Franklin & Marshall College's Steinman College Center.
F&M is only the second college, after Bates College in Maine, to host the exhibit, said Mick Kulik, director of the College's public policy program and the person responsible for bringing "State of the Environment" to Lancaster.
"I thought this would serve a variety of educational purposes because it has to do, not only with environmentalism, but history, art, photography and government," said Kulik, who started teaching at F&M this fall after a 37-year career with the federal government, including 27 years with the EPA. "As an educator, there are so many things you can do with this. And it's a good starting point for anyone interested in the topic of environmental protection."
Kulik said he invited his fellow faculty members to incorporate the exhibit into classroom activities and assignments. On Nov. 12, he brought students taking his "Great Watersheds" class to the exhibit, and he has had a handful of inquiries from F&M faculty members since announcing the exhibit to the community in late October.
"It fits the theme of an F&M education, which is to explain the theories, then bring them to life somehow," Kulik said. "This is a way for me to be more effective in the classroom, and to take learning outside the classroom."
Four students from Kulik's "Environmental Policy" class -- Julia Fiala '13, Maria Hower '13, Kayla Schulte '13 and David Steckler '13 -- helped Kulik set up the exhibit. They said they were excited to see the photographs before the exhibit opened to the public.
"We just think it's really cool," said Hower, a joint studies major who has interned with the Lancaster County Conservancy, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and protecting natural lands and open spaces in Lancaster County. "Seeing pictures, rather than just reading stories, will give people a better vision of what's going on in the world."
Steckler, a Spanish major who hopes to become a teacher and plans to incorporate environmental issues in his classroom, also was struck by the visual power of the exhibit.
"A picture can say so much more than words because it puts things in perspective," he said.
The nationally touring exhibit has made stops in dozens of cities this year, including Atlanta, Boston, Dallas and Seattle. In the spring it will be installed in a gallery at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C., where it will be on display from March 8 through Sept. 8, 2013.
Anyone interested in contributing digital images to "State of the Environment" may do so through the State of the Environment's Flickr page. Also on Flickr are images of the original series from 1971 to 1977.