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It’s appropriate that the federal sequester hit just a week before the opening of the exhibit “Searching for the Seventies: The Documerica Photography Project,” the fruits of a five-year-long, taxpayer-funded project in which 70 photographers produced 22,000 images of—well, that’s a little vague. Environmental problems are a recurring theme in the exhibit, from belching smokestacks (shown) to nuclear cooling towers, but a cursory look at the images on display makes clear that the participating photographers had wide-ranging interests. There are good photos here—a man whose legs were crushed in a coal-mining accident, a father and son toting guns to ward off gasoline thieves, and a gloomy image of (to quote its almost comically disquieting caption) “strip mining on Indian burial grounds.” And some of the troubled corners the photographers ventured into, from inner-city Chicago to hardscrabble Appalachia, were more than worthy of patient photographic treatment. Perhaps the most revealing tidbit in the exhibit is the existence of a new-generation documentary project now underway; this time, it’s crowd-sourced, a sign that top-down federal projects like “Documerica” are as out of fashion as fluorescent yellow bell bottoms.
The exhibit is on view daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the National Archives, 700 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Free. (202) 357-5000. archives.gov.