LEWISTON — Four-decades-old images of the Androscoggin River, choking with pollution until it frothed at the surface, are being revisited.

A massive pictorial archive of the country’s environmental problems has been unearthed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, posted on the U.S. National Archives website and curated into a traveling exhibit titled, “Documerica.”

On Friday, the exhibit will begin a four-day, public showing at Bates College’s Ladd Library. On Saturday, students, faculty and staff at the school are being encouraged to join a national initiative aimed at returning to the scenes of these antique images and documenting the change.

“‘State of the Environment’ is a chance for anyone in the public to show their town and their views of the environment through photos,” said Jeanethe Falvey, a Bates graduate who suggested the initiative to the school.

“I grew up and lived in New England my whole life and am thrilled to see these photos make their way to Maine for everyone to share and get involved,” Falvey said in a prepared release. Images gathered by the public are being collected on the photo-sharing website Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/groups/[email protected]/

“As of mid-April 2012, more than 1,800 photos have been submitted to the project Flickr page and we hope the traveling exhibit will inspire more to get out there and snap some shots,” Falvey said.

The project appeared just as Bates was gearing up for its Eco-Service Day on April 28, said Julie Rosenbach, Bates’ manager of sustainability initiatives.

“We were thinking of all the different ways we could connect people with their place, how to get their hands dirty in the soil, and plant things and prepare gardens and clean trails,” she said.

Falvey’s suggestion was serendipitous. Bates people will be sent out with cameras and intentionally little direction.

“I’m hoping it will be a really nice day that day,” Rosenbach said. “I want them to do whatever calls to them.”

Most interest will go to the river, she said.

“The Androscoggin is certainly important to all of us here,” Rosenbach said. “The river has certainly been cleaned up a lot. I don’t expect students to find blatant pollution that’s easily photographable.”

It was a different scene that greeted photographers in the 1970s. Clean water and clean air legislation was still taking hold on the environment.

For many, the Androscoggin was both an eyesore and the source of rotten odors.

Among more than 15,000 photographs taken nationwide, dozens examine the Androscoggin River and its communities: from Rumford and Jay to Lewiston-Auburn and Brunswick.

The archive is available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/usnationalarchives/collections/72157620729903309/.

The photos were taken between 1971 and 1977 by a team of nearly 100 professional, freelance photographers.

It was the first and largest government-led photo-documentary of its kind, inspired by a Farm Security Administration project to document the Great Depression, EPA spokeswoman Molly Hooven said.

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