Lewis Wickes Hine was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin to a working-class family. At the age of fifteen Hine was orphaned and forced into the workforce. While supporting himself, he managed to continue his education. After high school graduation Hine worked a few odd jobs. In 1900 he eventually enrolled at The University of Chicago to study Sociology. While attending classes Hine met a man named Frank Manny. Manny was a professor at the State Normal School.and helped Hine to get a job at the Ethical Culture School in New York City where he had recently been offered a position as Superintendant.. Hine decided to join his new friend and, in 1901 moved to New York to teach at Manny's school. Hine continued to pursue his degree in Sociology at New York University. It was during this period that Hine began to use a camera. At first, his interest in photography was simply as a means to educate students and to document school events. However, Hine was quick to take an interest in photography and ultimately this new medium would become the means through which he could express his growing social concerns, especially about child welfare.
In 1904, Hine began his first photo essay. In an attempt to counter growing anti-immigration sentiment amongst New Yorkers and Americans in general, Hine began a project to photograph immigrant families arriving at Ellis Island. Instead of making them appear pathetic or even animalistic, as other photographers were doing, Hine photographed these people with a humanitarian eye. He depicted them as brave, dignified pioneers of a new land. Hine's camera was a 5x7-plate box-type on a tripod. Often he had to work in low light. If he was indoors, Hine usually had only one chance to photograph an image because after he used a magnesium flash powder to create artificial light the room would fill with smoke, obstructing vision.
In 1905, Hine received his degree from New York University and began considering a career in Sociological Photography. By 1908, he had left his teaching job for a full time position as an investigative photographer for The National Child Labor Committee. His first commission from the NCLC was to photograph home workers, children and adults, in New York City tenements. Hine was horrified with what he saw, he described the conditions as "…one of the most iniquitous phases of child slavery". Later that year Hine, on commission from the NCLC, left New York to photograph child laborers all over the United States. Hine was on the road until 1912, documenting children as young as three years old laboring in unsafe and inhumane conditions. In 1909 Hine published his first photo essay on children at risk. The essay was comprised of material from the first years of his tour of the United States. Throughout his career many more photo essays would follow, alerting the public to the plight of these American children who were obviously in such grave danger in their working environments.
Hine's work also took him to Europe in 1917. Funded by the Red Cross, he photographed European refugees of World War I. In the 1920s, Hine returned to America and to Ellis Island to once again photograph newly arrived immigrants. For years he worked on various assignments for different groups and publications. Although Hine was a pioneer in 'Sociological Photography' and he had vastly increased public awareness about child labor, he still struggled to make a living.
In 1930, ten years before his death, Hine received the honor of photographing the construction of the Empire State Building. For a change, Hine focused on the joyful and productive side of labor instead of the dark side.
Throughout the thirties, Hine's work was exhibited at prominent institutions such as The Yonkers Art Museum and The New York State Museum. He published a portfolio, 'Through the Loom', which was collected by The Brooklyn Museum, The Metropolitan Museum and The Museum of Modern Art.
Lewis Hine died in 1940, but only after leaving an impression upon the world in both a personal and public way. He changed the lives of many individual children by alerting the public to their 'iniquitous slavery'. He also helped to inspire the social movement that would secure the promise of childhood to future generations. As a photographer, Lewis Hine left a resounding impact on the worlds of journalism and art… pioneering a new form of story telling that today we call photojournalism.
This collection is composed of twenty gelatin silver photographs taken by Lewis Wickes Hine for the National Child Labor Committee. The photographs document child labor throughout America in the early twentieth-century. Hine's photography helped to raise public consciousness about the inhumane and dangerous working conditions children were being exposed to everyday. His work was instrumental in bringing about child labor laws and raising safety standards in the American workplace .