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Lewis Wickes Hine

Documentary photography pioneer Lewis Wickes Hine was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin on September 26, 1874. His father did whatever he could to support his family, including working in restaurants and painting signs. In 1892, after the death of his father in an accident, young Hine worked as a blue-collar laborer and department store employee to generate family income. He also continued his education by taking classes at Oshkosh’s State Normal School and at the University of Chicago, where he was introduced to the progressive education practices of John Dewey.

Mr. Hine fully embraced the Progressive philosophy, and moved to New York in 1901 to teach geography and nature at the Ethical Culture School. Around 1904, he began using a camera for classroom purposes, and quickly recognized its value as an important educational tool. His photographs of Ellis Island immigrants were originally taken to instruct his students on America's social class structure. These series of photographs inspired him to travel along the East Coast to photograph the oppressive working conditions forced upon children. His camera of choice became the Graflex camera, which was both portable and could successfully provide the sharp focus his photographs required. Mr. Hine’s former student, photographer Paul Strand, defined his characterized his teacher’s work as 'straight' photography.

In 1908, Mr. Hine left the Ethical Culture School and joined the staff of the National Child Labor Committee as a photographer and investigator. His photographs of children in the workplace garnered immediate national attention. One particularly notable photograph was a 1909 image that depicted child workers removing wound bobbins from spinning machines, a particularly dangerous task. Mr. Hine’s close-up portraits of children revealed their youthful innocence in a powerful social commentary on how this innocence was being exploited in the name of capitalism. Mr. Hine also took photographs of children working on farms, in coal mines, and canneries. Because he still regarded his photographs as educational devices, he also composed the captions for each of his published images.

By 1914, Lewis Wickes Hine had championed what he referred to as the 'photo story.' He was a regular contributor to such publications as Charities and the Commons, the Survey, and Everybody's Magazine. He became one of the first photographers who demanded credit for the reproduction of his photographs and insisted upon maintaining control of the negatives. He would also organize his photographs in sequences, write supplemental articles for them, and always made sure he received a byline. Mr. Hine's child photographs are credited with eventually ending child labor through federal government legislation prohibiting the practice.

After the First World War ended, Mr. Hine received an assignment from the Red Cross to photograph the postwar conditions in Europe. During the 1920s and 1930s, he resumed photographing American workers, but also began documenting American progress as symbolized by the construction of the Empire State Building in 1931. Mr. Hine hung perilously from a crane while carrying his heavy camera in order to achieve the desired effect. However, like many Americans during the Great Depression, he found it increasingly difficult to earn a living as a photographer. Sadly, he died in poverty and near obscurity on November 3, 1940 at the age of 66. However, history remembers Lewis Wickes Hine as the father of modern photojournalism.



Ref.:
2002 American Social Leaders and Activists (New York: Facts on File, Inc.), p. 197.

2012 The Brief American Pageant: A History of the Republic, Volume II: Since 1865 (Boston, MA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning), p. 386.

2005 The Corporate Eye: Photography and the Rationalization of American Commercial Culture (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press), pp. 121-130.

2012 The Gilded Age and Progressive Era: A Documentary Reader (West Sussex, UK: Blackwell Publishing Limited/John Wiley & Sons), pp. 31-32.

2008 Hastings-On-Hudson (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing), p. 98.

2000 The History of Photography: An Overview (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press), pp. 44, 95.


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