Lewis W. Hine took Photography to a Whole New World

A picture can be used to sway public opinion in a way cold statistics cannot. It was this phenomenon that Lewis W Hine explored throughout his career as a social photographer. While other photographers at the time questioned if photography was art, Hine set out to photograph America’s working class. In 1905 he began to photograph immigrants at Ellis Island. He was the Ethical Culture School’s director and advocated his students to take pictures of immigrants with the same respect  in which they perceived the original Plymouth Rock Pilgrims.  


In both of the above photographs of immigrants in the early 1900s we can see a sense of realism. There is no effort to portray the immigrants in a negative light nor in a positive light just rather there is a portrayal of the raw essence of being an immigrant. Hine’s said“The picture is s symbol that brings one immediately in close touch with reality. It speaks a language learned early in the race and the individual”(Trachtenberg, 111)

Hine was influenced by Jacob Riis’s photographs of the late 1880s which focused on the coniditions Manhattan’s Lower East Side where many immigrants settled. Image

(“Italian mother and her baby” 1889, by Jacob Riis) (http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/people/r/jacob_riis/index.html)

In 1907 for the Pittsburgh Survey he photographed steel workers,but Lewis Hine was best known for when he was a staff photographer for The National Child Labor Committee.  As stated by Trachtenberg “for him a picture was a piece of evidence a record of social injustice, but also of individual human beings surviving with dignity in intolerable conditions” (109).


(“Breaker Boys”, 1910) Above is a photograph of breaker boys who had to separate coal from slate.

With this photograph you can see the dirt covering all of these boys faces and the fact they are clustered together brings up feelings of being confined into a small working environment. None of the boys are smiling and they look tired probably due to the fact that they worked 14 to 16 hour days.

 The following photograph entitled “Anemic Little Spinner in North Pownal Cotton Mill, North Pownal, Vermont, August 1910.” became an icon for the world of child labor reform. Taken in 1910 the caption read “Addie Card, 12 years, spinner in North Pownal cotton mill, North Pownal, Vermont. Girls in mill say she is ten years. She admitted to me she was twelve; that she started during school vacation and now would “stay.”” (http://www.dol.gov/oasam/library/contacts/stamp.htm)


“Perhaps you are weary of child labor pictures. Well, so are the rest of us, but we propose to make you and the whole county so sick and tired of the whole business that when the time for action comes, child-labor pictures will be records of the past.”(Trachtenberg, 112)

In all of Hine’s work there are common elements we can see in photojournalism of today. All of his images had meaning within a certain context and time frame. They were of current events making them timely. There is a level of objectivity, with the focus on the image’s content. Many of Hine’s images have a tone of objectivity. Finally, the images are relatable to the viewer. Hine’s style can be seen today. I recently saw an ad for the child’s fund. The photos of the children in their current living conditions remind me of Hine’s realisitc photographic style. (http://www.childfund.org/)

This entry was written by tonidibona and published on February 17, 2012 at 3:27 pm. It’s filed under Photography and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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