Janet Zandy

Janet Zandy is emerita professor from Rochester Institute of Technology. She is the author of the award-winning Hands: Physical Labor, Class, and Cultural Work and editor of Calling Home: Working-Class Women's Writings; Liberating Memory: Our Work and Our Working-Class Consciousness; What We Hold in Common: An Introduction to Working-Class Studies; and co-editor (with Nicholas Coles) of the Oxford Anthology of American Working-Class Literature. Her latest book is Unfinished Stories: The Narrative Photography of Hansel Mieth and Marion Palfi

Hansel Mieth and Marion Palfi: Women Photographers and their Aesthetic of Social Change


This project/book, Unfinished Stories, pairs the lives and work of Hansel Mieth (1909-1998) and Marion Palfi (1907-1978) pioneering, but under-represented women photographers. Born in Germany, they valued their acquired American citizenship as they constructed photographic narratives about the possibilities and contradictions of American democracy. Mieth was the second woman staff photographer employed by Life magazine. Palfi’s photo of Henry Street Settlement kids was the first cover of Ebony magazine. Although they never met, they constructed remarkably similar photo narratives of unseen America. Palfi described herself as a “social research photographer”; Mieth claimed a responsibility “to give back, to help if we possibly could to move the world a little closer to understanding.” They were visual storytellers, artists, and citizen-photographers who do not fit easily into contemporary categories of photojournalism or documentary photography.

This project disrupts the supposed binary between fine art and documentary photography to show an ethos and aesthetic of human relationality. It unearths a photographic legacy of solidarity with working class and poor people that enlarges the canon and history of photography.

The Palmquist grant helped defray the costs of researching the archives and prints of Hansel Mieth and Marion Palfi located at the Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, Tucson in 2009. The book that emerged from the project is Unfinished Stories: The Narrative Photography of Hansel Mieth and Marion Palfi (RIT Press 2013).