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

Lewis Hine

National Child Labor Committee

Social Photographer

National Child Labor Committee

Work Portraits


Analysis of Hine Photographs

Lewis Hine resigned from the Ethical Culture School in 1908 to become a full-time photographer for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC).


Photographic Fieldwork

Hine's first assignment was to photograph child labor conditions in the mines, mills, and factories of Ohio, Indiana, North Carolina, and West Virginia. While visiting Chicago in 1909 for the annual NCLC conference, Hine took photographs at Jane Addams's Hull House, a settlement home for the poor.

Throughout the next nine years, Hine traveled across the country, reporting on conditions in New York canneries, New Jersey glassworks, New England textile mills, and southern cotton mills and seafood houses. By 1918, Hine had taken thousands of photographs, only a small number of which had been printed.


Lectures and Exhibitions
In addition to conducting photographic fieldwork for the NCLC, Hine managed the agency's exhibit department. He also presented lantern-slide lectures for the agency.


At a 1909 lecture, Hine remarked, "The great social peril is darkness and ignorance." [30] Through his photographic work, Hine shed light on the long workdays, the poor lighting, the inadequate ventilation, and the dangerous machinery that made working conditions difficult for many employees.

The NCLC used magazine articles, posters, and exhibitions to demonstrate the need for child labor legislation. The NCLC's position was that "No anonymous or signed denials can contradict proof given with photographic fidelity." [31] The Child Welfare League also used Hine's photographs to promote its causes.


Freelance Work

Hine's freelance career blossomed. Advertising as the Hine Photo Company, he offered a variety of services, from exhibitions, to reports, to lantern slides, to magazine and newspaper articles. Hine sold photographs to picture agencies and to publications such as McClure's and Everybody's. Hine continued to write and photograph for Charities and the Commons, whose name had become The Survey.

Hine presented his photographs with captions in photo stories, posters, leaflets, and pamphlets. According to social historian Alan Trachtenberg, the purpose of Hine's social photography was "to bring into view what normal social vision has been conditioned to ignore." [32]

Together, Hine's photographs and captions helped the NCLC build its case. But Hine's images were powerful enough to stand alone.

 


Kay Davis, University of Virginia, © 2000-2003