Hine, Lewis Wickes

American (1874-1940)

Lewis Wickes Hine was a rare individual: a gifted artist with a passion for social reform who used his talents to bring about change for those less fortunate. Trained in sociology at the University of Chicago, Columbia and NYU, Hine’s brilliance drove him to the streets, rather than to an ivory tower retreat. As a teacher, he pushed his students to use the camera to educate the public; field trips to Ellis Island yielded images of the immigrants’ plight as they entered the US.

In 1907, Hine became the chief photographer for the National Child Labor Committee. Over the next ten years, he took thousands of shots that introduced the public to the horrifying conditions in which children were working and helped pass legislation ending the practice. Other projects found Hine in Pittsburgh and New York City, chronicling the hazardous labor of steelworkers and those erecting the Empire State Building, respectively. Several times, Hine put his own life in danger to catch something on film, in the hopes that he would provoke those in power to protect workers. Hine went on to serve as the chief photographer for FDR’s Works Progress Administration; it is sad and ironic, then, that his life ended in poverty and anonymity once government patronage came to an end.