Last House Standing

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When the Documerica archives were resurrected 40 years later, I was interviewed many times. One radio journalist joined me at the decimated location where my original photojournalism had taken place.

That interviewer had asked me to photograph the aftermath. He then asked that I think out loud while doing this. Talking and photographing was certainly unusual for me, as someone who tends to work silently and reflexively.

After a friend heard the broadcast, she expressed her fascination in what goes through my mind as I create images. I had always taken this process as a given, merely the way I work. Despite that, her remark started me thinking that, “maybe I know something.”

 I realized—in a later panel discussion at the National Archives and always in gallery talks—that people do tend to gather around. They ask many questions to which I actually have answers. As a late bloomer, making photography my career after many of my peers were already established, I had worked hard to catch up.

Now I was becoming known for photographic art…

NPR’s Scott Simon Interview w/ Michael Philip Manheim (Excerpt)

How Once We Were: Photographs of the Past is part of a traveling show sponsored by the National Archives. The photographs capture the sound polution and eventual erasure of an East Boston neighborhood by Boston’s Logan Airport in the ’70s. A book is in the works. Visit the book’s website below. 
In the 1970’s I was commissioned by the newly minted Environmental Protection Agency,  along with almost 100 others, to photograph environmental issues facing the our nation. Giff Hampshire and Arthur Rothstein recruited me for the project.
I had been following newspaper reports about the environmental impact of the Logan Airport expansion on East Boston. I knew the project would be challenging, noise is a difficult subject to capture visually, but the subject called me. It underscored how the dominant wreak their power, to the detriment of quality of life.
This important project found its way to the bowels of the National Archives, hidden for forty years, until it was recovered and resurrected through a team of public servants and Giff Hampshire’s idea turned a new chapter, 40 years later. Jeanethe Falvey of the EPA reached out to me to find out my piece of the puzzle, to tell this story, to put its modern iteration, State of the Environment (2011-2013), into motion. State of the Environment, compared with Documerica, is a visual reminder that we must persevere in saving the earth, our quality of life, and ourselves. Those of us touched by Documerica hope that it serves as a reminder of what once was, and what may become. A reminder that our choices make a lasting difference.
2013 marked the 40th year of Documerica. Due in no small part to Falvey’s efforts, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Archives rekindled the project, presenting a retrospective exhibit and launching a global photo documentary project where the public had an opportunity  to view 40 years of change-using Documerica, as Gifford Hampshire intended, as the baseline of the human and environmental conditions when the EPA began.  
My photography was included in an anniversary exhibit at the National Archives in DC and I took part in a panel discussion there.  Linda Wertheimer moderated with her usual insights and observations, and our conversation got pretty lively…and poignant. It gave me new urgency to publish my collection and share one  neighborhood’s story of loss and collapse in the hopes of sparking new interest on how to prevent such calamities in the future.
As I review today the images and captions I created, my heart again goes out to good people just wanting to go on with thir lives.
—Michael Philip Manheim