Otto Hagel (1909- 1973) photographed farmworkers, dockworkers and other victims of the depression for Time, Life, Fortune and other magazines. He and his wife Hansel Meith were part of the school of socially conscious documentary photo-journalists that included Dorothea Lange, Imogene Cunningham, Peter Stackpole and Robert Capa. Unlike many others, they began their work in California as migrant farm workers themselves.

Hagel's photographs of waterfront workers are the base of two extraordinary books published by the west coast longshoremen's union: Men and Ships: A Pictorial of the Maritime Industry (1937); and Men and Machines: A Story About Longshoring on the West Coast Waterfront (1963).

Hagel and Meith bought a working ranch in Santa Rosa California in 1941 that provided them with a livelihood and also served as a gathering place for friends--photographers artists and writers --who shared their commitment to improving conditions for workers. Hagel and Mieth photographed the inside of the Heart Mountain Japanese American internment camp for LIFE in 1943, but the photographs were never published, and they were blacklisted in the 1950s for refusing to testify before the House of Un-American Activities Committee.

Hagel left an enduring body of work, including powerful images of working people that span four decades. We are currently developing a web exhibit of this work in collaboration with the ILWU, one of the unions he worked closely with throughout his life. Here we present a small sample.


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