An exhibition now at the New York Historical Society features six women photographers who contributed to America’s first successful image-based magazine, and how these women’s work “contributed to LIFE’s pursuit of American identity through photojournalism.” One of the most interesting features of the show is its inclusion of materials that illuminate the behind-the-scenes processes at LIFE, like contact sheets and editorial correspondence. For instance, in Hansel Mieth’s reportage on garment union workers, we see that images of the workers’ strike did not make the cut for publication. Neither did several images of women at work, many of them black. The published photographs—of women riding a bike and lighthearted images of the union’s summer resort, with couples boating on the lake or lounging on the ground—have an overall optimistic tone, emphasizing the American Dream and the good life, and distorting Mieth’s intent.
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