Northern California in 1972. Tomas Sennett

A photographic trip to 1970s California

In 1971, the newly formed Environmental Protection Agency announced a groundbreaking photo project designed as a “visual baseline” against which to measure progress on cleaning up our air, land, and water. Over the next six years, about 100 freelance photographers fanned out across all 50 states for the Documerica series, capturing the environmental toll of rapid development but also everyday American life.

Fifty years later, the archive offers a vivid documentary portrait of the way we were in early 1970s. Roughly 15,000 of the strongest Documerica pictures have been digitized by the National Archive and posted online. The California Sun combed through the roughly 900 California images to bring you these 26 favorites.

Boy scouts in Monterey County in 1972.

Dick Rowan

The Golden Gate Bridge in 1972.

Tomas Sennett

Motorists crawled along the Hollywood Freeway in 1972.

Gene Daniels

The California coast, 1972.

Dick Rowan

Amusement park visitors in Santa Cruz in 1972.

Dick Rowan

Homes along Monterey Bay in 1972.

Dick Rowan

Passengers passed the time before boarding at Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal in 1974.

Charles O’Rear

The forested California coastline in 1972.

Tomas Sennett

Beachgoers played along the Big Sur coast in 1972.

Dick Rowan

Farmworkers in Orange County in 1975.

Charles O’Rear

Marin County, 1972.

Tomas Sennett

Partially cleared slopes in Northern California, 1972.

Tomas Sennett

Passengers board a shuttle near Mammoth Mountain in 1972.

Dick Rowan

Memorial weekend campers in Sequoia National Park in 1972.

Gene Daniels

A clearcut forest in Northern California in 1972.

Tomas Sennett

Lumber was stacked by a river in Humboldt County in 1972.

Tomas Sennett

People along the Southern California coast in 1972.

Dick Rowan

Untamed Humboldt County coastline in 1972.

Tomas Sennett

Bodie State Historic Park in 1972.

Dick Rowan

Skiers at Mammoth Mountain in 1972.

Dick Rowan

Downtown Sonora in 1972.

Gene Daniels

Artists at Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz in 1972.

Dick Rowan

A residential development near Newport Beach in 1975.

Charles O’Rear

Beachgoers in 1972.

Dick Rowan

Boaters on Malibu Lake in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Charles O’Rear

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