Hansel Mieth: Vagabond Photographer

Film Explores Legacy of Pioneering Woman Photojournalist

"You cannot photograph without a point of view.”—Hansel Mieth

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For Immediate Release 

Cara White, 843/881-1480; carapub@aol.com
Mary Lugo, 770/623-8190; lugo@negia.net 

(San Francisco, CA)—HANSEL MIETH: VAGABOND PHOTOGRAPHER is the compelling tale of a pioneering woman photojournalist who created some of the most indelible images of America mid-twentieth century, but is in danger of being forgotten today. A German immigrant who arrived in this country in the midst of the Great Depression, she rose to become a celebrated Life Magazine staff photographer, only the second woman to occupy that position. Armed with convictions, perseverance, and talent, Mieth courageously carved out a career in the male-dominated world of photojournalism at a time when very few women were accepted in the profession. HANSEL MIETH will air nationally on PBS on Tuesday, May 27th at 10 P.M. (check local listings). 

The forces that shaped Mieth into a photographer with a conscience are evident from her childhood as the daughter of working-class German parents who experienced hardship and poverty. As a young woman she met Otto Hagel, with whom her life and work became inextricably linked. Her life-long love affair with Hagel, also a photographer, is vividly portrayed in the film through Mieth's own words, and through the images Mieth and Hagel took of each other and of their surroundings. 

Moving to the U.S. in the 1930s, the out-of-work Hagel and Mieth toiled alongside migrant workers in the Salinas Valley, experiencing the same hunger, fatigue and despair as their coworkers. After months of grueling conditions, they became determined to document the plight of the laborers and unemployed workers in the Southwest, saving whatever money they could for photographic chemicals. After the death of their child, they moved to New York and began their rise to fame as photographers for hire. 

A contemporary and friend of such historical figures as Imogen Cunningham, Peter Stackpole, Dorothea Lange, Carl Mydans and Margaret Bourke-White, Hansel Mieth remains one of the great but still undiscovered women photojournalists of this century. During the "golden age of photojournalism” (1930s - 1950s), her work appeared in virtually every pictorial magazine in the world. She documented the casualties of social injustice—from Depression era hardships to the alarming assault on civil liberties in Japanese American internment camps. Yet through her talents as a photographer, Mieth gave her subjects a nobility, a sense that the lives she captured on film had an intelligence and worth few others had noticed. 

Nancy Schiesari was immediately drawn to Mieth's photographs when she encountered them in a small publication, Photography Forum, in an article written by Grace Schaub. Schaub, who had co-written [with Mamuru Inoye] the text for a book of photos about the Heart Mountain Internment Camp, put Schiesari directly in touch with Mieth. Beginning in 1996 with the barest crew—just herself and cinematographer Therese Sherman— Schiesari was fortunate to establish a personal connection with Mieth, recording more than 20 hours of intimate interviews at her home in Santa Rosa, California. Tragically, between their meetings, Mieth suffered a series of strokes. Her quickly fading health made the process of reflecting backwards all the more poignant and essential. Before she could see the film completed, Mieth died at the age of 88 in 1998. 

Schiesari reveals Mieth's extraordinary life experiences by intercutting taped interviews and voice-over narration with poetic imagery, both through archival flashback (selected for artistic merit as much as for historical context) and through Mieth's photographs, re-explored with the use of the camera. The result is a richly woven documentary that places Hansel Mieth as a significant contributor to the cultural context of her time. 

A modest woman, Mieth's compassion for the underprivileged and her integrity as an artist far overshadowed her drive for professional recognition. Her significant contributions to our national heritage are dangerously close to fading into obscurity. It is, therefore, with some sense of urgency, that filmmaker Schiesari has reclaimed Mieth's work, sharing with new generations the inspiration of this pioneering artist. 

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Producer/Director: Nancy Schiesari
Editor: Cooper Wood
Original Music: Javier Chaparro
Co-producers: Hans-Martin Liebing, Elana Wakeman, Julie Dervin
Executive Producer: Tim Kolenda 

Featured Interviewees, in order of appearance: 
Georgia Brown, Hansel Mieth Archivist
Anne Tucker, Curator of Photography, Houston Museum of Fine Art
Peter Stackpole, Photographer Beverly Brannon, Curator of Photography, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
J. B. Colson, Department of Photojournalism, University of Texas at Austin
Bill Hosokawa, Heart Mountain Internee
Mamura Inyou, Heart Mountain Internee
Mike Mackey, Historian 

About The Filmmaker 
Nancy Schiesari (Producer/Director/Writer) is an Emmy-nominated cinematographer who has shot dozens of documentaries around the world for The Learning Channel, Discovery, ABC, British Film Institute, BBC and Channel 4. Her most recent project was a profile of Martin Scorsese for BBC 4, which was broadcast on January 8, 2003, to coincide with the release of Gangs of New York. 

Schiesari was nominated in 2002 for an Emmy for her work on the series The Human Face with John Cleese and Elizabeth Hurley. Other recent credits in documentary include The Human Body [1998] for BBC, ABC and The Learning Channel; Six Degrees of Freedom [1997], profiles of virtual reality designers, for Silicon Graphics; and Warrior Marks [1994] for Channel 4, shot on location in Africa with Alice Walker. In features, she worked on the all-women camera crew of Sally Potter's first feature, The Gold Diggers [1983] shot in Iceland, and then became a DP on Partition [1988], featured at the Berlin Film Festival and other prestigious festivals and Poco Loco [1994], with Debra Koons Garcia. She currently teaches cinematography at the University of Texas at Austin and shoots and directs freelance assignments. 

About Independent Lens 
Independent Lens is a weekly series airing Tuesday nights at 10 P.M. on PBS. Hosted by Angela Bassett, the anthology series features documentaries and a limited number of dramas united by the creative freedom, artistic achievement and unflinching visions of their independent producers. Independent Lens features unforgettable stories about a unique individual, community or moment in history. Presented by ITVS, the series is supported by interactive companion websites, and national publicity and community outreach campaigns. Independent Lens is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a private corporation funded by the American people, with additional funding provided by PBS. 

About ITVS 
Independent Television Service (ITVS) funds and presents award-winning documentaries and dramas on public television, innovative new media projects on the Web and the weekly series Independent Lens on Tuesday nights at 10 P.M. on PBS. ITVS is a miracle of public policy created by media activists, citizens and politicians seeking to foster plurality and diversity in public television. ITVS was established by a historic mandate of Congress to champion independently produced programs that take creative risks, spark public dialogue and serve underserved audiences. Since its inception in 1991, ITVS programs have revitalized the relationship between the public and public television, bringing TV audiences face-to-face with the lives and concerns of their fellow Americans. ITVS is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people. Contact itvs@itvs.org or visit www.itvs.org. ITVS is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American People. 


Posted on February 26, 2003