Lewis Wickes Hine (1874–1940) was an American sociologist and photographer. After his father died in an accident, he began working and saved his money for a college education. Hine studied sociology at the University of Chicago, Columbia University and New York University.
Hine used his camera as a tool for social reform.Both Riis and Hine made their social reforming images more widely available through magic lantern shows, arguably the YouTube of the time, with the aim of reaching a middle-class audience with some political influence. Whereas Riis presented the urban poor as helpless victims, Hine was committed to social change. Hine was more than sympathetic to the cause and used the setting of the people in his images in a way that endorsed the points he and the committee were making. He wanted to see labour law reform and felt that he could help achieve this by shedding some light on the plight and daily struggle of previously ‘invisible’ people like immigrants and child workers.
He became a full-time photographer when he was hired by the National Child Labor Committee in 1908 to travel around America for four years documenting and providing evidence of the working and social conditions of children. His photographs were instrumental in changing the child labour laws in the United States.
Hine was also aware of the dangerous nature of the high rise race – the pace that buildings were going up in New York and the number of fatalities that were involved. The industry guideline at the time was that there should be no more than one death per floor – the Empire State Building has 102 floors. Whilst his images have an almost relaxed feel, the stark background and the drop below reveal the danger that these workers were exposed to.
During the Great Depression, he again worked for the Red Cross, photographing drought relief in the American South, and for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), documenting life in the mountains of eastern Tennessee. He also served as chief photographer for the Works Progress Administration’s (WPA) National Research Project, which studied changes in industry and their effect on employment. Hine was also a member of the faculty of the Ethical Culture Fieldston School.
The Library of Congress holds more than five thousand Hine photographs, including examples of his child labor and Red Cross photographs, his work portraits, and his WPA and TVA images. Other large institutional collections include nearly ten thousand of Hine’s photographs and negatives held at the George Eastman House and almost five thousand NCLC photographs at the Albin O. Kuhn Library & Gallery of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
In 1936, Hine was selected as the photographer for the National Research Project of the Works Projects Administration, but his work there was never completed. The last years of his life were filled with professional struggles due to loss of government and corporate patronage. Few people were interested in his work, past or present, and Hine lost his house and applied for welfare. He died at age 66 on November 3, 1940 at Dobbs Ferry Hospital in Dobbs Ferry, New York, after an operation.
After Lewis Hine’s death his son Corydon donated his prints and negatives to the Photo League, which was dismantled in 1951. The Museum of Modern Art was offered his pictures but did not accept them; but the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York did.
- Child Labor: Girls in Factory (1908)
- Breaker Boys (1910)
- Young Doffers in the Elk Cotton Mills (1910)
- Steam Fitter (1920)
- Workers, Empire State Building (1931)
- Two Boys Working on a
- Loom in Massachusetts
- The Spinning Room at Carver Mill.
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