Bill Hackwell is a widely published and exhibited contemporary photographer who lives and works in the San Francisco bay area. The bulk of his work has focused on social change in working class and oppressed communities. He has worked as the photographer for a number of non-profit and humanitarian aid groups working in many parts of the world.
Hackwell's career as a social documentary photographer began in Vietnam in 1968. In an attempt to visually explain the devastation of that war he turned his camera from the war itself to focus on the lives of the Vietnamese people. His photographs from this period can be seen in two books; the Time-Life series on the Vietnam War entitled; Combat Photographer and Reflexes and Reflections, The Vietnam Veterans Arts Group, published by Abrams in 1998.
In 1977 Hackwell received a BA in Anthropology from the University of Northern Colorado. During his studies there he completed a visual ethnographic study of Anzi; a peasant village in Southern Italy where he lived and studied for a year. Other projects from this period included traditional market systems in Southern Mexico and migratory patterns of sugar beet field workers in Colorado.
Over the past fifteen years Hackwell has worked on various projects in Cuba and has amassed thousands of images of the Cuban people in their struggle for dignity and sovereignty in the face of U.S. hostility. His photographic essays on various aspects of Cuban life include the sugar industry in Matanzas Province and one of the oldest carnivals in the Western Hemisphere in Santiago de Cuba.
In 1996 Hackwell was the photographer on a fact finding delegation to Iraq led by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark. These photographs have been widely published and have toured throughout the U.S. and Canada. They also illustrate the book The Children are Dying, depicting the impact that sanctions had on that country prior to U.S. occupation.
Hackwell has traveled to Mexico as the photographer for several humanitarian aid projects delivering food and medicine to the indigenous communities in the central highlands of Chiapas. In 2001 he accompanied the leadership of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation on their historic march from the jungles of Chiapas to Mexico City to press for the rights of indigenous people. In 2002 Hackwell was in Argentina covering the unfolding political and economic crisis there. He is a frequent lecturer at university and community colleges where he presents slides and speaks on Cuba, Chiapas and Argentina.
The largest part of Hackwell's work is embodied in a touring exhibit of his images of social and political struggle in the U.S. Entitled Struggles in the Belly of the Beast, this exhibit has been viewed by national and international audiences. The exhibit opened May 2006 in the National Library of Havana Cuba. In November 2006 the exhibit was moved to Centro de Arte in the eastern Cuban city of Holguin. This powerful show dispels the myth of complacency in the U.S. working class. In contrast it depicts vibrant social currents over the past 30 years battling against wars, attacks against the living standards of workers and racial injustice.
Bill Hackwell's photographs have been described as revealing the possibilities inherent in human destiny, as opposed to fate. Like depression era photographers Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange, Hackwell shows the public the everyday life of working and poor people. The insistence in his photographs of the dignity of these people conveys hope to the viewer with a distinct absence of pity. The evident pride and strength in his subjects gives the appearance that one day they themselves will be able to transcend their difficult situation.