Masters of Photography – Lewis Wickes Hine (1874-1940)

Written by:

I’m going to approach this installment of Masters of Photography a little differently. With the previous articles I’ve tried to tell the story of the photographer and include a few of his or her photographs. This time I’m going to say a few words about the photographer and let his photographs tell the story. Look closely at the photographs, they are a wonderful capture of a part of the history of the United States of America.

As difficult as it is to not do so, I won’t make any editorial comments save this one. Most of the people featured in Hine’s photos lived without telephones, televisions, computers, video games and even electricity and running water. Yet, many of them and the people of their time went on to become what has been called the greatest generation. I wonder how we would fare facing the same challenges?

Lewis Hine was an American sociologist and photographer who used his camera as a tool for social reform. His photographs were instrumental in changing the child labor laws in the United States.

In 1906 he began photographing life in the steel-making districts and people of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

In 1908, he became the photographer for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC). Over the next decade, Hine documented child labor in American industry to aid the NCLC’s lobbying efforts to end the practice.

During and after World War I, he photographed American Red Cross relief work in Europe. In the 1920s and early 1930s, Hine made a series of “work portraits,” which emphasized the human contribution to modern industry.

In 1930, Hine was commissioned to document the construction of The Empire State Building. Hine photographed the workers in precarious positions while they secured the iron and steel framework of the structure, taking many of the same risks the workers endured.

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.

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.

Oyster Shuckers at Alabama Canning Co. -Feb.
Oyster Shuckers at Alabama Canning Co.

The Ball Team. Composed mainly of glass workers. Indiana. Aug. 1908. L.W.H. [Lewis Wickes Hine].  (LOC) The Ball Team. Composed mainly of glass workers. Indiana. Aug. 1908

Children Picking Cranberries, Pemberton,New Jersey - September
Children Picking Cranberries, Pemberton,New Jersey

Some of the doffers and the Supt. Ten small boys and girls about this size out of a force of 40 employees. Catawba Cotton Mill. Newton, N.C., 12/21/1908
Some of the doffers and the Supt. Ten small boys and girls about this size out of a force of 40 employees. Catawba Cotton Mill. Newton, N.C., 12/21/1908

Rhodes Mfg. Co. Spinner. A moments glimpse of the outer world. Said she was 11 years old. Been working over a year. Lincolnton, N.C., 11/11/1908
Rhodes Mfg. Co. Spinner. A moments glimpse of the outer world. Said she was 11 years old. Been working over a year. Lincolnton, N.C., 11/11/1908

Three pickers going home from work...
Three pickers going home from work

"Mrs. Jacob Stooksbury in her home at Loyston, Tennessee.", 11/23/1933
Mrs. Jacob Stooksbury in her home at Loyston, Tennessee

"The Glandon family around the fireplace in their home at Bridges Chapel near Loydston[sic], Tennessee. Glandon's wife plays both the guitar and the organ.", 10/31/1933
The Glandon family around the fireplace in their home at Bridges Chapel near Loydston[sic], Tennessee. Glandon’s wife plays both the guitar and the organ

New York, New York - Longshoremen. This shows the prevailing method of transferring bananas from the end on the conveyor that carries them from the hold of the ship onto the dock. Then they are taken on the men's shoulders across...
New York, New York – Longshoremen. This shows the prevailing method of transferring bananas from the end on the conveyor that carries them from the hold of the ship onto the dock. Then they are taken on the men’s shoulders across

Millville, New Jersey - Glass Bottles - T. C. Wheaton Co. Green Glass Monkey Shop
Millville, New Jersey – Glass Bottles – T. C. Wheaton Co. Green Glass Monkey Shop

This 'Counter Restaurant' Is at CCC Camp, TVA #22, near Esco, Tennessee. Temporarily the Boys Are Eating Outdoors and Using for a Lunch Counter Lumber Which Is to Be Used in the Construction of Their Winter Barracks
This ‘Counter Restaurant’ Is at CCC Camp, TVA #22, near Esco, Tennessee. Temporarily the Boys Are Eating Outdoors and Using for a Lunch Counter Lumber Which Is to Be Used in the Construction of Their Winter Barracks

Interior of Magnolia Cotton Mills Spinning Room. See the Little Ones Scattered through the Mill. All Work. Magnolia, Miss., 05/03/1911
Interior of Magnolia Cotton Mills Spinning Room. See the Little Ones Scattered through the Mill. All Work. Magnolia, Miss., 05/03/1911

Photo Credits: All photos by Lewis Wickes Hine

Previous Post:

Comments are closed.