The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

April 9, 2016

April 9, 1909

Hansel Mieth (April 9 ,1909 to February 14 1998) was not a cat photographer so we were happy to find this print of her work, labeled, I think by the artist: "Stallion Trying to Make Friends with a Barn Cat."

We read that Hansel Mieth grew up in Fellbach, a German town, in modest circumstances and with pietistic values. She was only 15 years old when she met her partner in work and love, Otto Hagel. They roved around Europe on bikes 
and then "they came to the United States in the late 1920s, seeking the adventure and opportunity they had read about in stories by Jack London." They both became photographers.

A San Francisco newspaper obit described Hansel Mieth as "one of the most admired and accomplished photojournalists of the golden age of the great pictorial magazines."...

Ms. Mieth's pictures, as well as those of her husband ...were distinguished by their humanity, compassion and advocacy for the underprivileged and the working class. During the 1930s and 1940s, their work appeared in virtually every major pictorial magazine in the world.

In 1937, Ms. Mieth became only the second female photographer hired by Life, joining Margaret Bourke-White on the magazine's staff. Her 1939 photograph of a rhesus monkey rising out of the Caribbean while trying to escape an animal research center in Puerto Rico remains one of the magazine's most requested images.

....The photograph that many people identify Hansel Mieth with is titled The
Misogynist and it was published as Picture of the Week in LIFE’s issue of January 16,
1939. As famous as this picture of a Rhesus monkey in chest deep water became, Mieth
considered it trivialized her efforts to document scientific research on a group of
Rhesus monkeys on Santiago Island near Puerto Rico. The monkeys were being raised
free of disease by primatologists for eventual use in scientific research.
 [The following added details appeared in The American Society of Media Photographers, Inc.Bulletin (April 1998)]

She spent many weeks on the assignment and eventually presented about 100 pictures
to LIFE. Just as she was about to go into the editor’s office, Alex King, head of
the science department asked to look at the project.  As he went through the stack of prints, he came to the monkey in the water. “That’s it! That’s it,” he said. “That’s Henry Luce (LIFE’s publisher) if I ever saw him. He took the print all the way up to Henry himself and it was a big joke.”  Hansel .... became agitated just remembering it. “I mean, it
was a scientific story. They cut the whole science out, the whole work, all cut out. That
was used at Harvard later on but not at LIFE — because Henry Luce looked like a
monkey when he was angry! The whole story was lost to that one picture."

[Back to her obit] In May 1940, Ms. Mieth and Hagel were married. Although Ms. Mieth had become a U.S. citizen, Hagel had remained a German citizen, and despite their marriage, they feared he would be deported when World War II broke out. As a result, Ms. Mieth quit Life's staff, and they moved to a ranch in the foothills north of Santa Rosa.

For the duration of the war, Hagel remained on the ranch, constructing a house and working the land, while Ms. Mieth accepted free-lance assignments from Life and other magazines, documenting the human toll of the war....

We include some shoptalk from the Bulletin article on Mieth; she is quoted:

“There is more than being a good photographer to the work of photojournalism. There is creating a structure with your photographs. You have to say something in a progression. It is a different kind of drama. ”Smith was the best; Bob Capa found it only when he was in a war. Others couldn’t do it, and never quite made it on
LIFE.” Who? For example, I wanted to know. “Well, there was Dorothea Lange. She wanted very badly to be a LIFE photographer, had pictures accepted from time to time but somehow it didn’t work out. She could take wonderful pictures, good portraits — but that’s not the only skill a LIFE photographer needed. Ansel Adams also tried but apparently he didn’t have ‘the sense of continuity’  for doing a story.”....

Hagel became a U.S. citizen in 1945, and in 1948, Life asked them to return to their hometown in Germany, which they hadn't seen in three decades. But shortly after their return to the United States, they were asked to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee. They refused, and although Life published their photographs from Fellbach in 1950, they received few additional magazine assignments in the charged anti- communist climate of the time.

Hagel died in 1973. Hansel Mieth continued to live and work at what is universally described as their "secluded" ranch.  There of course were honors to come.

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