"Chicano writers from El Paso are the most progressive, open-minded, far-reaching, and inclusive writers of them all."

Octavio Romano

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Documerica: Segundo Barrio

Earlier this summer, I was searching the National Archives for information on the Santa Fe Railroad in the El Paso area during the 1920s. Turns out, most of the information was long destroyed. While reviewing the search results, the name Danny Lyon and Seguno Barrio appeared kept appearing in the search results. The search engine kept providing me search results of anything related to El Paso, most of it useless to my needs. What prompted me to click on the Segundo Barrio Lyon search results was it indicated a collection of photos from the environmental Protection Agency (EPA) records.

Intrigued, I clicked on one search result expecting images of a dirty Rio Grande or ASACRCO, instead a photo with the following caption appeared on my screen "Chicano teenager in El Paso's second ward. A classic barrio which is slowly giving way to urban renewal." In the photos, a Chicano was leaning against an unknown alley in El Segundo Barrio. The photo was taken in 1972. Another photo showed the inside of a 50s Chevy with a inspiring sticker "RAZA IS LOVE" put on the dashboard. Other photos showed buildings and streets in Segundo. All these photos captured a moment of time in El Chuco. Where is this "Chicano teenager" now?

Why was the EPA was taking pictures of Chicanos in El Segundo? According the EPA, "Documerica was a program sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency to photographically document subjects of environmental concern in America during the 1970's. The images were made by approximately 70 well-known photographers contracted by the EPA for this project." The photographers were paid $150 per day plus film and expenses. The photographers would send the negatives to the EPA, where the staffers would select the best photos. The photographers were not limited creatively. The EPA, inspired by the photos of the Great Depression and The New Deal, wanted to record the images of 1970s America to show the impact of pollution and show America that places needed saving. Among the photographers involved in this project was Danny Lyon.

Lyon is photographer from Chicago. After attending Univ. of Chicago, he was involved with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committe (SNCC). He has been awarded a Guggenheim fellowship. His photos have been showed at one-man exhibits at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Apart from his impressive photos of El Segundo, his photo collection, "Conversation with the Dead" is equally impressive. In the late 1960s, he took photos at various prisons in Texas creating an insightful and revealing look at the Texas prison system. Photos titled "Prision Tatoos" "The Shakedown" and "New Arrivals from Corpus," which shows two Vatos are haunting. Apart from El Chuco, the Documerica Project sent Lyon was sent to South Texas where he took numerous pictures of gente down there.

DOCUMERICA ended its impressive goal in 1977 because of budget cuts. According to the EPA, over 80,000 photos were taken with over 20,000 photos stored with the National Archives. Numerous photos, including quite of few of the Segundo Barrio fotos, were featured in an exhibit at the National Archives, "Picturing the Century; One Hundred Years of Photography."

A great use of government funds.

Couple of links:
The National Archives
Danny Lyon Photos
Danny Lyon Biography

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