Ortil studied English and Physical Education in Göttingen. In 1932 he completed his doctorate in English with a thesis about George Berkeley und die englische Literatur.
Ortil did not begin his teaching career smoothly. After Hitler's raise to power, he could not enter the German civil service and in fact was held in a concentration camp for two years but released following Germany's victory against France (1940).
After the war, Ortil finally started teaching. Eschewing offers of a political or administrative career, he spent his entire working life as a teacher of English and physical education in a Gymnasium (upper secondary school) in Bremen.
The Hanseatic Pirates
It was in Bremen where he founded in 1949 the Hansische Piraten Seefahrende Kanujugend Bemen e.V. (Hanseatic Pirates), a naturist group of boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 18.
Based on Bremen, Ortil accompanied the group when they put their canoes to sea for long adventurous voyages visiting solitary places from the arctic territories of Finland to Greece and shed their clothes whenever possible. Ortil encouraged both boys and girls to be open with their sexual needs. It was not uncommon for boys to masturbate in groups and play with each other during the group's canoe trips. It was not uncommon for "Big Old Joe" (as the boys called him) to participate in the boy's games either (Ortil never failed to show his special preference for boys), all with the tacit approval of their children's parents, who knew about the group's philosophy.
It is interesting to note that despite the reactionary politics in moral matters of the federal German government, the influence of the German Youth Movement and the memory of war upheaval resulted in a frankness and liberality in this regard that astonishes in retrospect.
According to Ortil's introduction in Hundert nackte Wilde, the boys urged him to photograph them, and thus he began taking pictures of the group's naked members regularly. These naked photographs of young boys and girls were regularly used to illustrate various issues of the naturist magazine Helios. The most famous of these was Hundert nackte Wilde (1957) (Hundred naked savages) featuring only naked boys, which caused a controversy in the neighboring Netherlands.
His photographs later appeared in Sun & Health magazine in the UK, as well as several other books, including The Boy: A Photographic Essay (1964) (presented as evidence in the 1993 Michael Jackson trial).
Hajo Ortil donated his sexological library and photographic archive to the Brongersma Foundation in the Netherlands. Nevertheless, the photographic archive was seized from the Foundation and destroyed by the Dutch police in 1999.
Bibliography of Ortil's photography
- Amazonen in Sonne und Baltenwind - Im Faltboot um Bornholm (1955).
- Es brausen Bura und Maestral. Faltbootflottille im Kampf mit den Sturmwinden der Adria (1956).
- Hundert Nackte Wilde (1957).
- Hellas Ewig unsre Liebe (1958).
- Das Waldriff im Meer; idyllische Kajakfahrten in die Felsen und Inselwildnisse Dalmatiens (1958)
- Noch sprudeln die Quellen Arkadiens (1958).
- Holland, Ole! Eine Lustige Piraterie (1961).
Sun & Health magazines
- Ortil's Boys and Girls (1967)
- Ortil's Naturist Youth in Greece (1967)
- Ortil's Youth Ahoy (1967)
- Gäste des Odysseus (Frankfurt A/M: R. Hofmann, 1967)
- Jugend am Start (Frankfurt A/M: R. Hofmann, 1967)
- Mit Tom und Tanja in Finnland (Frankfurt A/M: R. Hofmann, 1968)
- Ortil's Canoe Pirates (Harrow, England: Book Horizons, 196?)
- Ortil's Pan (Harrow, England: Book Horizons, 1969)
- Ortils nackte Rebellen (Frankfurt A/M: R. Hofmann, 1970), 3 issues
- Boys, olympic boys (Frankfurt A/M: R. Hofmann, 1972)
- Boyphoto 8 / FKK Classics (Berlin: Janssen-Verlag, 199?) ISBN: 3-925443-32-0
- PAN magazine, Number 9 (July 1981) has an interview he gave shortly before his death.
- Interview With Hajo Ortil (pp.18-26)