Author: Dolores Flamiano
The tension between social reform photography and photojournalism is examined through this study of the life and work of German emigre Hansel Mieth (1909-1998), who made an unlikely journey from migrant farm worker to Life photographer. She was the second woman in that role, after Margaret Bourke-White. Unlike her colleagues, Mieth was a working-class reformer with a deep disdain for Life's conservatism and commercialism. In fact, her work often subverted Life's typical representations of women, workers and minorities. Some of her most compelling photo essays used skillful visual storytelling to offer fresh views on controversial topics: birth control, vivisection, labor unions, and Japanese American internment during World War Two. Her dual role as reformer and photojournalist made her a desirable commodity at Life in the late thirties and early forties, but this role became untenable in Cold War America, when her career was cut short. Today Mieth's life and photographs stand as compelling reminders of the vital yet overlooked role of immigrant women in twentieth-century photojournalism. Women, Workers, and Race in LIFE Magazine draws upon a rich array of primary sources, including Mieth's unpublished memoir, oral histories, and labor archives. The book seeks to unravel and understand the multi-layered, often contested stories of the photographer's life and work. It will be of interest to scholars of photography history, women's studies, visual culture, and media history.