EDUCATOR'S GUIDE: REFRAMING AMERICA, Through the Eyes of Seven Immigrant Photographers


Otto Hagel and Hansel Mieth were both born in Germany in 1909. They were fifteen when they met in their homeland and began their lifelong involvement with writing and photography. Both possessed a curiosity about the world and its people, and together they left Germany to wander and work their way throughout Europe. Worried about the economic problems of Europe and the rise of fascism in Germany, Hagel immigrated to the United States in 1928. Having no money, he had to pay for his passage by working on a freighter. Mieth followed him to San Francisco in 1930. They eventually married. Together, they worked as laborers and migrant farm workers, turning to photography and filmmaking whenever they could.

Hagel and Mieth were confronted with the harsh reality of the Depression in America in the 1930s. Their first home in California was a tent. Mieth eventually began to photograph for Time magazine, and both she and Hagel contributed a number of photographs and photographic essays to Life magazine. Many times they collaborated on a photograph. Both artists were interested in brining about a better understanding of real life through their photographs. Their own difficult, working class backgrounds made them sympathetic to the poor, the unemployed, and the labor unions. Hagel died in 1974. Mieth currently lives in northern California.


Outstretched Hands, 1934
Hansel Mieth
©1998 Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona Foundation

Mieth and Hagel often photographed people who were struggling to make a living. In this image, Hansel Mieth shows men vying for jobs at the San Francisco Waterfront in 1934.

To guide your students in a discussion, ask questions like:

The Window Washer, 1939
Otto Hagel
©1998 Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona Foundation

Otto Hagel once worked as a window washer in New York City. When asked why he was employed as such, he replied, "Well, with the economy going bad, I want to be able to see what the giants of industry are doing by looking into their windows!" From this response we know that he had quite a sense of humor. Hagelís The Window Washer is actually a self-portrait. Hagel set up the photograph from inside the room in order to record himself washing a window of a tall building, high above the streets of New York City. This is a complicated picture that can be discussed formally for the way it looks and for what it communicates.

To guide your students in a discussion, ask questions like:    This page last updated September 15, 1999.

| Contents | Angle, Framing, and Light  | Learning to Look | Alexander Alland | Robert Frank | John Gutmann | Otto Hagel and Hansel Mieth | Lisette Model | Marion Palfi | Glossary | Acknowledgements | CCP Home |
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