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Electric cars and belching smokestacks: photographs recall the environment of 1970s America

In the 1970s, the newly formed Environmental Protection Agency hired dozens of freelance photographers to capture thousands of images related to the environment and everyday life in America.

The Documerica project was modeled on the renowned photography program run by the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Documerica documents a broad slice of life from the 1970s, from belching smokestacks, to a "No gas today" sign dating to the 1973 gasoline crisis, to rugged coal country scenes, to senior citizens in a water exercise class in Florida.

Frank Lodge / U.S. National Archives via AP

In this Oct. 1973 photo, participants check out the Exide Battery Sundancer, an early experimental electric car at the First Symposium on Low Pollution Power Systems Development in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Flip Schulke / U.S. National Archives via AP

In this undated photo, residents take part in an aquatic exercise class at the Century Village Retirement Community in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Marc St. Gil / U.S. National Archives via AP

In this June 1973 photo, a chemical plant adjoins a pasture in Marshall, Texas.

David Falconer / U.S. National Archives via AP

In this Oct. 1973 photo, a sign hangs in the window of a gas station in Lincoln City, Ore.

Erik Calonius / U.S. National Archives via AP

In this Oct. 1973 photo, Mary Workman holds a jar of undrinkable water from a well outside her home near a coal mine in Steubenville, Ohio.

Charles O'Rear / U.S. National Archives via AP

In this May 1972 photo, an unidentified hitchhiker stands with his dog "Tripper" along U.S. 66 near Topock, Ariz.

The U.S. National Archives digitized more than 15,000 photographs from the Documerica collection.

As we reported today, the EPA has embarked on a yearlong campaign to collect photographs from across the United States and around the world for a new project. The public have been invited to upload their pictures to a Flickr page set up for the State of the Environment Photo Project.

How do you think the American environment has changed since the 1970s?

Related content: Energy, landscape and environment: Mitch Epstein's American Power.