Paris-based Martin Joubert has created a series of publications to display an image archive of the USA during the 70s. Documerica, which the series takes its name from, was a programme sponsored by the United States Environmental Protection Agency to “photographically document subjects of environmental concern” from 1972 to 1977. The images were taken by around 70 well-known photographers at the time and each interpreted the brief in their own style, “preserving a distinct visual record of time and place”.
Martin first discovered the image archive after working on a book about Nasa’s Apollo programme. “I found out that Nasa and some other US administrations have many common rights Flickr accounts or dedicated websites,” he explains. “When I found the Documerica Archive, purely by chance, I said to myself, ‘you need to do something with this’. It’s so 70s and a real link to the past.”
In between art directing jobs, Martin decided to turn the photographs he discovered into a series of publications. “I really like documentary photography, and because the Documerica Project is part of the US Environmental Protection Agency, it’s really unknown, so I wanted to give this great project a new birth,” Martin says.
So far there’s four issues, each of a different photographer’s images and the designer has kept the layout similar in all of them using two different colours in each issue, connecting to the atmosphere and ideas present in the images. “For example on the Danny Lyon issue it’s orange because a lot of the pictures are from El Paso, and you can feel the sun and the heat from those images,” says Martin. “The first issue is pink because there’s lots of pink on the clothes and there’s a sort of pinky filter on the photographs.”
The biggest challenge for Martin during the project is the selection process for each issue. “I want everything to feel coherent and not just like photographs next to photographs with no link between them. I want to tell a story,” says the designer. “When you have around 500 photos in a series and you can only choose 50, you have to make tough choices.”
The variety of images within this project is fascinating, and Martin shows the beauty and differences between people from all over the USA with a nostalgic look to the past. In regards to the future of the project, the designer is currently in talks with a friend of his who’s just about to start a publication house to produce future issues. But even if he doesn’t get the funding to publish more issues, he’s keen to continue the project. “I want to finish all the issues even if it’s only digital, I don’t want to let the project die,” he says. “I received so much good feedback after the first issue, I just want to carry on conveying a positive message.”