Documenting "The Other Half": The Social Reform Photography of Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine
Photography and Social ReformJacob RiisLewis HineSlideshows

Lewis Hine

Social Photographer

National Child Labor Committee

Work Portraits

Analysis of Hine Photographs

Lewis Hine has been recognized in recent years as one of the pioneers of social reform, later called "documentary," photography.

Social Photography as Art
Hine, a New York City educator and reformer, had a natural talent for photography. His background in printing and art served him well, for he was able to see and convey the artistic components of an image.

From the beginning of his photographic career, Hine thought of himself as an artist. The poses and titles of some of his early photographs are reminiscent of paintings. However, Hine was not interested in merely modeling his work after European artistic traditions. Defining his work as "social photography" in a 1908 Charities advertisement, Hine stated that his goal was "to offer graphic representation of conditions and methods of work." [27]

The Crusade Against Child Labor
Hine and other Progressive Era reformers campaigned against child labor and other social conditions. In the early twentieth century, several child labor reform organizations formed to secure effective laws.

Lewis Hine, 1936
Lewis Hine, 1936

The National Child Labor Committee (NCLC), founded in 1904, provided research expertise, supported local child labor committees, informed the public of existing conditions, and worked to ensure that laws would be passed to prohibit child labor.

The NCLC hired Lewis Hine to travel around the country photographing child workers in factories, mills, mines, and canneries. Hine created an extensive photographic record that enabled the NCLC to present its case to the public and to federal government officials.

Hine had a long and successful career as a photographer. By the time of his death in 1940, social reform photography had become an acceptable method of documentation, worthy of mainstream publications like Life magazine. Social reform photography had also become appreciated as an art form.


Kay Davis, University of Virginia, © 2000-2003