For more than half a century, award-winning photojournalist Earl Dotter has been documenting the lives of regular people who earn a living working in dangerous and unhealthy conditions: from emergency responders on Ground Zero after 9/11, to coal miners heading down into dangerous mines, to asbestos workers handling hazardous material.
Dotter’s life work will be on display in two simultaneous photography exhibits in The Drexel Collection at Drexel University, running from June 29 to Sept. 1. The exhibitions were brought to the University by Arthur L. Frank, MD, PhD, professor and chair emeritus of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health in the Dornsife School of Public Health.
LIFE’S WORK: A Fifty Year Photographic Chronicle of Working in the U.S.A. demonstrates the breadth of Dotter’s work in occupational photography through images of those toil in perilous conditions in poultry processing plants, coal mines, hospitals and fishing boats.
The second exhibit, BADGES: A Memorial Tribute to Asbestos Workers, focuses exclusively on U.S. workers exposed to asbestos in mining, manufacturing and product installation by companies fully aware of the exposure risk.
Dotter’s decades of photographing workers have provided documentation to support advocacy for safer working conditions across the United States.
This is the latest in a series of collaborations between the Dornsife School of Public Health and The Drexel Collection. In 2009, Frank sponsored an exhibit in The Drexel Collection titled Monotypes by Matt Phillips: An exhibition from the collection of Arthur L. and Joanne B. Frank. The Drexel Collection also partnered with the Dornsife School of Public Health in 2015 by hosting a photography exhibit, Awareness: Larry Clark’s Tulsa Series, depicting the drug use of the photographer and his friends. A lecture on the opioid epidemic was held during the show’s run.
“I really enjoy working with the Dornsife School of Public Health and discovering how much of our artwork — particularly photographs — document, treat and expose the concerns faced by our public health workers,” said Lynn Clouser, director of The Drexel Collection. “The art can open up the discussion and bring those not particularly affected by these issues or unaware of them into the conversation.”
The Drexel Collection also will host two lunchtime lectures to give context to the working conditions depicted by the images.
Frank will host a lecture at noon on July 11 titled “Understanding the Workplace Through Photography.”
“It is often said a picture is worth a thousand words,” Frank said. “The work of Earl Dotter graphically illustrates the hazards of work, and as an occupational physician these photographs help me and others understand those hazards.”
On August 8 at noon, Dotter will hold a lecture titled “Life’s Work”, providing the audience with a view of the trajectory of his career. He will discuss the current exhibition and his work as an occupational and environmental photographer, as well as his earliest artistic influences at the School of Visual Arts in New York from 1967-68, and how it led him to focus his camera upon the lives of working Americans.
The exhibitions will be on view in the Rincliff Gallery from June 29 to Sept. 1, with an opening reception on June 29. The Rincliff Gallery is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. The Gallery is free and open to the public.