Anne Darling Photography

Photographer Lewis Hine Part 2

As a photographer Lewis Hine became involved in the documentation of immigrants early in the 20th century.

Looking at the pictures that he made of immigrants has the viewer focus on what is most human about them, the inner struggle as well as the unfolding scenario. His lens captured the heroic effort of these people - pride, determination, and primacy of family.

Lewis Hine - photo of a power house worker working on a steam pump
Power house mechanic working on steam pump, 1920: Photo by Lewis Hine

Lewis Hine photographs still prove meaningful today. There are those who have taken it upon themselves to scour Lewis Hine photographs in an effort to track down the relatives of the photographed. In one case, an account is given of a man who thought he was looking at an aunt and who found this woman to be his mother. He had seen her picture for the first time.

Lewis Hine - photo of a child carrying two boxes of fruit
Lewis Hine - Child Labor, 1910

Aside from academic roots, Lewis Hine knew labour from first-hand experience, often working at jobs which were meaningless to him in order to subsist, such as the furniture factory where he put in long days for meager wages. This experience gave him a particular point of view in photographing the exploitation of labourers, especially that of child workers. As a photographer Lewis Hine had a particular empathy when documenting the children at work, earning part of the family's keep and enduring dire conditions. They were, to their employers, a dime a dozen.

Lewis Hine - child laborer
Child Laborer, Newberry, S.C., 1908: Photo by Lewis Hine

Hine worked for the National Child Labor Committee during the decade following 1910. He was often forbidden entry into factories and devised ways of circumventing employer obstacles to media access. He would pose as a government inspector or as a worker to gain access, often endangering himself. If he could not actually enter the factory, he would follow the little workers to and from their jobs, photographing along the way. Drawing upon his experience as a teacher, he knew how to engage children in conversation in order to probe their situation.

Lewis Hine - Old timer structural worker
Old timer structural worker (Empire State Building, 1930: Photo by Lewis Hine

The last job as a photographer Lewis Hine held, was in documenting the Empire State Building as it was being erected. Hine knew that to document the work and the workers sufficiently he would have to do so from a bird's eye view. His answer was to rig a lift that put him up with the workers in their precarious positions, capturing the drama and the dangers of the job. These photographs are, today, some of the most aesthetically beautiful of those taken by him.

That the work of Lewis Hine is virtually arcane research material and not widely known in the public sphere is a loss to all who want to know our own history. Lewis Hine, if not solely responsible for social change, certainly contributed the evidence needed to foment change. He photographed so that we would today enjoy lives in a more civil society than he did. As sentimental as it may sound, that has always been the core of what we call the American Dream, that future generations would be better off for our having existed.

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