About Earl Dotter

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Earl Dotter has been photographing Americans workers on the job for over forty years.  His lifetime commitment to documenting their stories has made Dotter the American worker’s “Poet Laureate.” Beginning in the Appalachian coalfields in the early 1970′s to the present time, he has put a human face on those who labor, often in dangerous and unhealthy conditions. He follows in the humanistic tradition of such great American documentary photographers as Jacob Riis, Lewis Hine, Dorothea Lange, and W. Eugene Smith.

Most recently, Dotter has collaborated with award-winning journalist and author Suzanne Gordon to record the day-to-day work experiences of all levels of the health care staff at the Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, for its 100th anniversary. The hospital is also installing a permanent 300 photo Dotter exhibit for the staff and public to enjoy throughout  the 700 bed medical center.

Dotter’s photographic career began in 1968, when he joined VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America). His assignment to the Cumberland Plateau Region of Tennessee brought him in contact with coal miners.  After VISTA, he remained in the area to photograph the movement to reform the United Mine Workers Union.  When the UMWA election was won by the union reform candidates in 1972, Dotter was invited to work for the UMWA Journal, with its emphasis on coal mine safety.  At a time that a coal miner was killed every other working day and was the most dangerous job in America.  Dotter used his camera to record the intimate details of the miner’s daily life – the dangers of underground mining as well as the joys, dignity and culture that sustained coal mining families.  The lessons learned then still guide his photography today.

Throughout the 1980’s and 90’s Dotter sought out a wide array of occupational subjects and continued to fulfill his objective of personalizing the worker’s life on the job, at home and in the community.  In 1996 Earl Dotter began his exhibit tour of THE QUIET SICKNESS: A Photographic Chronicle of Hazardous Work in America, followed by the book published by AIHA.  In 1999 the Harvard School of Public Health invited Dotter to become a Visiting Scholar at Harvard’s Occupational and Environmental Health Program, a position he holds today.

In 2000 Dotter received an Alicia Patterson Foundation Fellowship to document Commercial Fishing, currently this nation’s most dangerous occupation, which culminated in THE PRICE OF FISH exhibit tour in New England.  After the World Trade Center attack on 9/11, Dotter journeyed to Ground Zero to photograph the First Responders working around the clock to rescue victims and to remove the tragedy laden wreckage, and to New York City firehouses which were reeling from the loss of 343 of their own.  The exhibit, WHEN DUTY CALLS, A Tribute to 9-11 Emergency Responders, resulted.

In 2007, funded by the Harvard School of Public Health and other donors, Dotter and writer Tennessee Watson chronicled migrant farm workers, the engine of Maine’s agricultural economy.  In 2010, Dotter and Denver-based writer Cindy Becnel collaborated to record the lives of members of Native American and Canadian First Nation tribes at work developing energy resources on tribal lands.  The exhibit, HOLDING MOTHER EARTH SACRED first opened at the University of Colorado, Denver with the tour including showings at the American Public Health Association and the American Industrial Hygiene Association’s annual meetings.

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