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Earl Dotter: A Lifetime of Documenting the Hard Work of Others

Farmworkers pose with harvest

Photo by Earl Dotter

“I came of age professionally in the worker health and safety movement with Earl Dotter’s images, bringing to life, in often painful ways, worker struggles and reinforcing the ongoing need to carry on the fight for worker safety.” -- Amy Liebman, MPA, Director of Environmental and Occupational Health at MCN, in the introduction to the chapter about farmwork in “LIFE'S WORK, A Fifty Year Photographic Chronicle of Working in the USA.”

Last week, dozens of environmental and occupational health advocates gathered at AFL-CIO headquarters for a conversation with Earl Dotter, labor and occupational health photojournalist who has dedicated his life to chronicling the lives of workers in America, often documenting the dangers of work that few otherwise encounter. The event marked the release of Dotter’s new photograph book, and exhibit of the same name, “LIFE'S WORK, A Fifty Year Photographic Chronicle of Working in the USA.” Regular readers of MCN’s publications may recognize some of the photos in chapters focused on  photo projects Dotter completed around the lives of farmworkers and immigrants, “WORK. RESPECT. DIGNITY: Shared Images of Maryland’s Eastern Shore Immigrants,”   “DAIRY FARM HEALTH and SAFETY: Our Nationwide Challenge,”  and “FARMWORKERS FEED US ALL.”


dairyworker poses in front of machine

Photo by Earl Dotter


“WORK. RESPECT. DIGNITY” was a joint project between MCN and Dotter to document the contributions of immigrant workers to communities on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where MCN’s East Coast office is headquartered. With support from the Maryland Humanities Foundation, MCN staff and Dotter met with immigrants toiling in all kinds of industries, listening to their stories and meeting their families.


farmworker holding tool

Photo by Earl Dotter


“Earl’s work illuminates the worker in a way that makes you recognize the person, the human being, who gets up each morning and goes to work, while introducing you to the sometimes brutal conditions these laborers face everyday on the job,” said Amy Liebman, MPA, Director of Environmental and Occupational Health at MCN. “It is truly an honor to celebrate Earl’s lifetime of work.”



Earl Dotter takes a photo of a worker cleaning

Photo by Earl Dotter


Along with Liebman, Several MCNers, including Marysel Pagan-Santana, Program Manager, Alma Galvan, Senior Program Manager, and intern Karly Mahan joined Dotter to celebrate his life’s work.  AFL-CIO’s long-time director of occupational safety and health, Peg Seminario, lead the conversation with Dotter.

“Earl’s photos and images over the last 50 years offer an important reflection not only of his work, but an historical documentation of the occupational safety and health movement,” said Liebman. “It was exciting to bring our new staff and intern into this conversation. We need the next generation of professionals to continue this important focus on worker safety and health.”


farmworkers gather apples

Photo by Earl Dotter


Visit Earl Dotter’s website at to see many of his photo projects and keep up with his upcoming events and purchase his new book here. The exhibition of his work will be on view in the center lobby of the AFL-CIO, 815 16th St. NW, Washington, DC, through November 29th. It is free and open to the public.


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