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.

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