Lewis Hine

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Lewis W. Hine
Lewis Hine selfportrait.jpg
Born (1874-09-26)September 26, 1874
Oshkosh, Wisconsin
Died November 3, 1940(1940-11-03) (aged 66)
Hastings-on-Hudson, New York
Nationality American
Known for Photography
Movement Documentary; social realism
Patron(s) Russell Sage Foundation;
National Child Labor Committee;
Works Projects Administration

Lewis Wickes Hine (September 26, 1874 – November 3, 1940) was an American sociologist and photographer. Hine used his camera as a tool for social reform. His photographs were instrumental in changing the child labor laws in the United States.[1]

Early life[edit]

Hine was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, in 1874. After his father died in an accident, he began working and saved his money for a college education. Hine studied sociology at the University of Chicago, Columbia University and New York University. He became a teacher in New York City at the Ethical Culture School, where he encouraged his students to use photography as an educational medium.[2]

Brooklyn Museum - Climbing into the Promised Land Ellis Island - Lewis Wickes Hine

The classes traveled to Ellis Island in New York Harbor, photographing the thousands of immigrants who arrived each day. Between 1904 and 1909, Hine took over 200 plates (photographs), and eventually came to the realization that documentary photography could be employed as a tool for social change and reform.[3]

Documentary photography[edit]

In 1907, Hine became the staff photographer of the Russell Sage Foundation. Here Hine photographed life in the steel-making districts and people of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for the influential sociological study called The Pittsburgh Survey.

Child laborers in glassworks. Indiana, 1908
Little Lottie, a regular oyster shucker in Alabama Canning Co., 1911, Bayou La Batre, Alabama

In 1908, he became the photographer for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC), leaving his teaching position. Over the next decade, Hine documented child labor, with focus on labor in the Carolina Piedmont,[4] in American industry to aid the NCLC's lobbying efforts to end the practice.[5] In 1913 he documented child laborers among cotton mill children with a series of Galton's composite portraits.

Hine's work for the NCLC was often dangerous. As a photographer he was frequently threatened with violence or even death by factory police and foremen. At the time the immorality of child labour was meant to be hidden from the public. Photography was not only prohibited but posed a serious threat to the industry. In order to gain entry into these mills, mines and factories, Hines was forced to assume many guises. At times he was a fire inspector, post card vendor, bible salesman or even an industrial photographer making a record of factory machinery.[6]

During and after World War I, he photographed American Red Cross relief work in Europe. In the 1920s and early 1930s, Hine made a series of "work portraits," which emphasized the human contribution to modern industry. In 1930, Hine was commissioned to document the construction of the Empire State Building. He photographed the workers in precarious positions while they secured the iron and steel framework of the structure, taking many of the same risks the workers endured. In order to obtain the best vantage points, Hine was swung out in a specially designed basket 1,000 feet above Fifth Avenue.[7]

"Power house mechanic working on steam pump," 1920

During the Great Depression, he again worked for the Red Cross, photographing drought relief in the American South, and for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), documenting life in the mountains of eastern Tennessee. He also served as chief photographer for the Works Progress Administration's (WPA) National Research Project, which studied changes in industry and their effect on employment. Hine was also a member of the faculty of the Ethical Culture Fieldston School.

The Library of Congress holds more than five thousand Hine photographs, including examples of his child labor and Red Cross photographs, his work portraits, and his WPA and TVA images. Other large institutional collections include nearly ten thousand of Hine's photographs and negatives held at the George Eastman House and almost five thousand NCLC photographs[8] at the Albin O. Kuhn Library & Gallery of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Later life[edit]

In 1936, Hine was selected as the photographer for the National Research Project of the Works Projects Administration, but his work there was never completed.

The last years of his life were filled with professional struggles due to loss of government and corporate patronage. Few people were interested in his work, past or present, and Hine lost his house and applied for welfare. He died at age 66 on November 3, 1940 at Dobbs Ferry Hospital in Dobbs Ferry, New York, after an operation.[9]

After Lewis Hine's death his son Corydon donated his prints and negatives to the Photo League, which was dismantled in 1951. The Museum of Modern Art was offered his pictures and did not accept them, but the George Eastman House did.[10]

Notable photographs[edit]

  • Child Labor: Girls in Factory'
  • Breaker Boys (1910)[11]
  • Young Doffers in the Elk Cotton Mills (1910)[12]
  • Steam Fitter (1920)
  • Workers, Empire State Building (1931)


See also[edit]

  • House Calls, a documentary about physician and photographer Mark Nowaczynski, who was inspired by Hine to photograph elderly patients.[14]


  1. ^ Troncale, Anthony T. "About Lewis Wickes Hine". New York Public Library. Archived from the original on 2007-03-08. Retrieved 2007-05-22. 
  2. ^ Smith-Shank, Deborah L. (March 2003). "Lewis Hine and His Photo Stories: Visual Culture and Social Reform". Art Education 56 (2): 33–37. ISSN 0004-3125. OCLC 96917501. 
  3. ^ Troncale, Anthony T. "About Lewis Wickes Hine". New York Public Library. Archived from the original on 2007-03-08. Retrieved 2007-05-22. 
  4. ^ "Spinner in Vivian Cotton Mills, Cherryville, N.C.: Been at it 2 years. Where will her good looks be in ten years?". World Digital Library. Retrieved 11 February 2013. 
  5. ^ The American Quarterly, Lewis Hine:From "Social" to "Interpretive" Photographer by Peter Seixas
  6. ^ Rosenblum, Walter. Foreword. America & Lewis Hine: Photographs 1904-1940:. Comp. Marvin Israel. New York: Aperture, 1977. 9-15. Print.
  7. ^ Troncale, Anthony T. "Facts about the Empire State Building". New York Public Library. Retrieved 2007-05-22. 
  8. ^ Lewis Hine Collection
  9. ^ The New York Times; November 4, 1940; "Lewis W. Hine; Photographer Whose Pictures Showed Conditions in Factories" p. 19
  10. ^ Goldberg, Vicki (1998-09-13). "The new season / Photography: critic's choice; A Career That Moved From Man to Machine". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-10-25. 
  11. ^ "Breaker Boys" Life
  12. ^ Lewis Wickes Hine Young Doffers in the Elk Cotton Mills, Fayetteville, Tennessee, 1910 at The Jewish Museum
  13. ^ "Addie Card: Search For An Amemic Little Spinner, Chapter One". Morningsonmaplestreet.com. Retrieved October 15, 2009. 
  14. ^ Brett-MacLean, Pamela (2007-05-27). "The elderly patient: in situ". CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association). Retrieved 2009-04-07. 

External links[edit]