Biography | Bibliography
“Hine was one of the first and greatest of those who used photography for social reform. As a youth he worked for a while in a furniture factory, then studied at the University of Chicago, New York University, and Columbia University. In 1903, while he was teaching botany and nature studies at the Ethical Cultural School in New York, he received a camera from the head of the school to use as a teaching aid and to record school activities.
Hine’s interest in social welfare and in reform movements led him in 1905 to begin his first documentary series, immigrants on Ellis Island. In 1908 he left teaching to become an investigator and photographer of the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC), and between 1908 and 1916 he traveled extensively photographing child-labor abuses. He would inveigle his way into factories, take notes on conditions, record the children’s names and ages, surreptitiously measure their heights against the buttons on his vest, and then, if he could, photograph them at work. He visited children and families who worked at home and he wrote with impassioned sarcasm of “ ‘opportunities’ for the child and the family to enlist in the service of industry” (quoted in Gutman , p.23).
Hine’s photographs were used to make lantern slides for lectures and to illustrate pamphlets, magazine articles, and exhibitions. Hine himself arranged layouts, wrote reports based on his field interviews, and was in charge of NCLC exhibitions (ca. 1915). His images helped win passage of child-labor laws – they constituted proof that the conditions the NCLC wrote about actually existed and they made the plight of the children real.
Hine strove to photograph positive qualities in life, especially the dignity of labor. From 1930 to 1931 he took hundreds of pictures of the Empire State Building under construction; they were published in Men at Work along with photographs of factory workers and other laborers. He wrote: “Some of them are heroes; all of them persons it is a privilege to know” (quoted in Stott, Documentary, p. 213).
Though early in Hine’s career his photographs were often published, by the 1930s interest in his work had declined. In 1938 he was denied a grant to photograph American craftspeople at work. The Photo League in New York publicized his work but it was not until a number of years after his death that he again received wide recognition. Hine referred to hi photographs as “photointerpretatons.” As Judith Mara Gutman observed: “Hine shaped a new art form…. A kind of photography he called ‘interpretive,’ later schools called documentary…. a flat fiery arrangement of people, light, and form that became a timeless humanist art” (Lewis W. Hine and the American Conscience, p.47).1
1From Lee D. Witkin, and Barbara London, Selected Photographers: A Collector’s Compendium, The Photograph Collector’s Guide, Boston: New York Graphic Society, 1979, 163.
Craig A. Doherty, The Empire State Building / Craig A. Doherty and Katherine M. Doherty ; featuring the photographs of Lewis Hine, Woodbridge, Conn. : Blackbirch Press, ca. 1998.
Verna Posever Curtis, Stanley Mallach, Photography and Reform: Lewis Hine and the National Child Labor Committee, Milwaukee: Milwaukee Art Museum, 1984.
Jonathan L. Doherty, Women at Work: 153 Photographs by Lewis Hine, Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1981.
Russell Freedman, Kids at Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor, Boston: Clarion Books, 1994.
Vicki Goldberg, Lewis W. Hine: Children At Work, Munich: Prestel Verlag, 1999.
Judith Mara Gutman, Lewis W. Hine, 1874-1940: Two Perspectives, New York: Grossman Publishers, 1974.
Ronald J. Hill, Ed., Lewis W. Hine: Child Labor Photographs, Catalogue 8, Washington D.C.: Lunn Gallery/Graphics International Ltd., 1980.
Lewis W. Hine, Freddy Langer, Lewis W. Hine: The Empire State Building, New York: Prestel Publishers, 1998.
Denyse Gerin-Lajoie, Jorge Guerra, Claire Martin, Photo: Lewis W. Hine, 1874-1940, Toronto: Kodak Canada Ltd., 1977.
Daile Kaplan, Lewis Hine in Europe: The Lost Photographs, New York: Abbeville Press Publishers, 1988.
Walter Rosenblum, Naomi Rosenblum, Alan Trachtenberg, Marvin Israel, America & Lewis Hine: Photographs 1904-1940, New York: Aperture, 1977.
Karl Steinorth, Lewis Hine: Passionate Journey, Photographs 1905-1937, Zurich: Edition Stemmle, 1995.