Photographer in Focus – Michael Manheim

Last week, I had the luck of place and time to meet one of the foremost photographers chosen to contribute to Documerica. When photography began in 1972, the Environmental Protection Agency was barely two years into working to better protect public health and the environment. Now, decades later, the inspiration behind this monumental project is once again gaining the attention it deserves.

Each photographer gave us reasons for disbelief and awe, but also for hope. In some places we can see the impact that their raising awareness had. How did you react to these images? In every sense, ‘reaction’ is a response to some influence or event. Perhaps again, State of the Environment can inspire individual awareness and environmental action the world over.

I met Michael Manheim last week at a gallery talk of his at the Griffin Museum in Belmont, Massachusetts. Among the exhibit of his early work, there quietly hangs one of the more eye-catching moments he caught from East Boston in 1973. Documerica was one of many photography endeavors he took on. Back then he says, “You did whatever it took to keep yourself going.” Today, his work reflects the freedom he has to focus deeper (take a look, you’ll see).  After a lifelong career in photography, any of his images could have been on display. There, when I saw “Landing at Logan,” the pride he felt from being a part of Documerica was self-evident.

Like the other photographers, Michael was tasked to submit subject matter of his choice for the project. It was about “connection;” he was excited with “the idea of reaching the public and raising individual awareness.” Ultimately, the struggle and anxiety felt by a close-knit community beside Logan Airport drew him in. Relatives from those who lived in the area are still in touch, and his living room photographs leave no doubt that he made the connection he was hoping for.  Today most of those houses are gone, replaced by concrete and airport service lots.  He wonders what could have been, if he could have raised awareness sooner.

One glimpse into the many stories told through Documerica. State of the Environment is your chance. Show us what you see.  What new stories will be told?

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey, State of the Environment Project Lead U.S. EPA Office of External Affairs in Boston, Massachusetts

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