Anne Darling Photography

Lewis Hine (1874-1940, American)

Lewis Hine did not pursue the path of an artist among photographers who had spent their whole lifetime working to elevate the making of photographs to art.

Instead, he felt a mission in life, a moral obligation, to document and thus to reform the plight of immigrants, the horrors of child labour, and the desperation of the hungry in the United States.

Those who had suffered the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and the injustices of child labour and crushing poverty were also documented by other photographers.

Lewis Hine - glass makers in a factory
Glass-making: Photo by Lewis Hine

These included such names as Dorothea Lange with her beautifully composed pictures and Walker Evans who photographed worn-out sharecroppers but to artistic and often intellectually evolved aesthetics, and Robert Capa, whose daring had him among the earliest to charge the Normandy beach on D-Day, capturing war as it happened. All of these photographers elicited feeling from those who viewed the pictures they made.

Yet Lewis Hine set himself apart by shedding light upon the lives of the invisible, the exploited, and the forgotten. And this was his clarion call: he felt a moral obligation to these people and considered aesthetics very little in comparison to the others mentioned. He wanted a good picture but its primary criterion was that it must bring change through recognition.

Lewis Hine - glass makers in a factory
Glass-making: Photo by Lewis Hine

This was the unusual task that Lewis Hine undertook, like a missionary sacrificing the civilization he knows to probe the unknown and often cruel facts of the lives of others. He foremost aimed to bring comfort, aid, and reform.

Hine was the exception rather than the rule among legitimate Modern photographers. He had earned a Master's Degree in Education. He was a man of intellect and of many diverse interests. Beginning as a teacher, he found that he had an eye for photography and would take students on field trips throughout New York; they later discussed the findings of the pictures. And he had a gift for relating to people. All of these qualities would help him in his quest for reform.

"I want to show things that have to be corrected," emphasized Hine. And he managed to achieve just what his stated intention prescribed: he did show society and he documented for the United States government and its agencies the reforms that urgently needed to be met.

Click the link for more Lewis Hine photographs and Part 2 of this Lewis Hine article.





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