Celebrating the Work of a Socially Conscious Photographer

Sonoma County Museum exhibit "LIFE, Labor and Purpose" runs through August 20.

LIFEmaglogoMargaret Bourke-White occupies a hallowed place in journalism history. She was Life magazine’s first female photographer, joining the publication in 1936.

Following closely behind in 1937 as the magazine’s second female staff photographer was German immigrant Hansel Mieth. She went on, alongside eventual husband Otto Hagel, to earn praise for her socially conscious work. A new exhibit of the couple’s work has just opened at the Sonoma County Museum in Santa Rosa, CA. Titled “LIFE, Labor and Purpose,” it runs through August 20:

Over the years, the museum has collected over 120 original photographic prints, representing the work of Hansel Mieth and Otto Hagel. It is an important part of the museum’s permanent collection, and while carefully cataloged and preserved, the photographs, with a few exceptions, have never been shown.

Mieth sealed her reputation with photographs of migrant workers and striking San Francisco dockworkers. She and Hagel (who freelanced for the magazine) also went on assignment in 1943 for Life to the Heart Mountain Japanese American internment camp, but the pictures they shot there were never published.

Mieth is also remembered for a 1938 of a Rhesus monkey. The picture was snapped in Puerto Rico. From a 2014 Time magazine revisit:

When Mieth got back to New York, she learned that the joke around the Life offices was that she’d produced a striking portrait of Henry Luce, the founder and publisher of Time, Life, Fortune and other magazines: evidently, some of her colleagues felt that the rhesus in the water looked like their boss.