Hansel Mieth (1909 – 1998)
Hansel Mieth was a German-born photojournalist, most notable for capturing the dire conditions of working-class Americans in the 1930s and 1940s. Her photographs are well-known for their social commentary of the Great Depression; Hansel photographed different aspects of worker’s lives, from poor working conditions to labour strikes and homelessness. Her efforts to document the forgotten and struggling workers of America highlight her involvement in, and commitment to, political justice.
Hansel emigrated to America in her youth, and started documenting the conditions around her while working as a migrant farm labourer. This experience became the basis of much of her work. Hansel is also known for her photographs capturing the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War. During this time, Hansel recalled the question “how could people whose liberties had just been taken away salute the flag?” Hansel can be credited with shedding light on the treatment of Japanese Americans during the war.
Hansel was the second woman to join LIFE magazine, where arguably her most famous image of a rhesus monkey was published. However, Hansel was enraged by this, as they only released one photograph. For this reason, she is known to have been bitter towards the image, stating, “I call him the monkey on my back”. Otto Hegel, also a photographer, was Hansel’s husband; the two of them returned to Germany after the war to document its ruinous aftermath. Her essay on this topic “We Return to Fellbach” was also published in LIFE magazine. However, Hansel and Otto became blacklisted photographers due to their reluctance to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, leading them to become sustenance farmers on their ranch in California.
Hansel’s emotionally charged and political images are emblems of her legacy, and continue to have relevance today.
Hansel Mieth’s images can be found at the Center for Creative Photography.