Lewis Hine – Socially Engaged Photography
Lewis Hine (1874–1940) – American sociologist and photographer who pioneered socially engaged photography. He focused on the lower social classes exploited with hard labour in inhumane conditions. Forced to get a job as a young man himself, he wanted his photos to improve the situation of the portrayed individuals.
In 1908, Hine became the photographer for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC), a private organisation set up in 1904 to abolish the exploitation of children. He was sympathetic towards young starters, particularly little newsies. About 20 percent of American children between 10-15 years old were working at the time. Children performed the work of adults at a much cheaper rate, without complaining about the harsh conditions. Some branches of the industry, like mines or farms, hired even five-year-olds for simple, repetitive chores. Working children did not attend school – work started at sunrise and went on until sunset; a child’s working day averaged between 8 and 12 hours.
For 16 years, Lewis Hine visited various states, photographing the working conditions of children in various industries. He photographed children in coal mines, meatpacking houses, textile mills, and canneries. In many instances, he went against the owners’ will and management. He tricked his way into the establishments to take pictures that managers did not want the public to see. When he was forbidden entry, he photographed the kids at sunrise or sunset before they started or after they left work. He interviewed them, quickly gaining their trust.
Contrary to the principles of portraiture of the time, which required the model to pretend not to pose at all, Hine had the children look straight into the camera. So when the audience looks at the child, the child will look straight into the viewer’s eyes, often with silent reproach. The efforts of Hine and others like him led to The Keating–Owen Child Labor Act of 1916, which regulated the standards of child labour.
The photographs on display come from the collections of the Library of Congress.
Where: The Hartwig Alley, Kowalska 3
Outdoor exhibition available at all times