Earl Dotter with his BADGES Exhibit at the ADAO’s 2016 Conference Photo: Tony Rich
This week I had the pleasure of interviewing Earl Dotter, who for nearly fifty years has focused on photographing hazardous occupations in the USA beginning with coal miners in 1969, then the most dangerous job in America. Earl Dotter has been a relentless advocate and dear friend to ADAO who has helped raised asbestos awareness through his photographic masterpieces. He has been a Visiting Scholar at the Harvard School of Public Health since his appointment in 1999. Currently Dotter is following hazardous jobs new immigrants perform in the USA.
In addition to speaking at ADAO’s 2016 Annual Asbestos Awareness and Prevention Conference, Earl traveled to Washington DC to photograph ADAO’s 9th Senate Staff Briefing: “Asbestos: Impact on Consumer Safety, Public Health, and Asbestos Victims’ Civil Rights” held in February where nearly sixty Senate staffers representing 27 states attended.
It truly is an honor to interview Earl and share his inspiring, creative, and life-changing work. ~ Linda
LINDA: Please tell me about your background and photography experience.
EARL: I first discovered my artistic inclinations while recovering from a boating accident as a young teenager. My mother put a Jon Gnagy How to Draw Sketchbook into my hands to pass the time and I did pretty well creating the line drawings. Later as a very shy high schooler I decided to draw the current football stars for the Pep Rally Booster Board. This gave me some recognition that I appreciated. It wasn’t long after, I decided to draw the homecoming queen and I became friends with her as a result. This was a personal lesson I took to heart. With my interest in art I could reach out to others, something I had found difficult to do up to that point.
Later, while in college I pursued a variety of artistic endeavors with graphic design and advertising seeming the most practical to consider for a career. When I graduated from San Jose State in 1967 my primary art instructor encouraged me to go to the School of Visual Arts in NYC to be taught by successful art directors there. Fortunately, my photo instructor, Paul Elfenbein, required his students to only take photographs that expressed our personal point of view. This requirement ultimately became a very timely and repeated lesson as Martin Luther King, then Bobby Kennedy were assassinated; with the urban crisis coming into view after the riots, and the Vietnam War protests also escalating in 1968.