Lewis Hine (1874-1940)
'Child Labour Exhibition Panel'
Vintage gelatine-silver prints
Museum no. PH.1191-1980
The untitled photograph above is one of Hine's many images of children that he produced while involved with the NCLC. Hine's photographs of this period were used for social reform and the photograph on the left shows the image incorporated into an exhibition board promoting the idea of 'permits and inspection'. Hine holds a central place in reform photography but was also aesthetically innovative, finding an alternative to the out-of-focus Pictorialist style that was still dominant at this time.
Lewis Hine began to take photographs in about 1904 when he was teaching at the Ethical Culture School in New York.
He used photography for educational purposes, to promote the idea of the dignity of working men and women's lives, and also to celebrate the multicultural nature of contemporary American society.
Hine wanted to faithfully represent working people and commonplace things, a theory that for him had an aesthetic justification in 19th-century literary and visual realism. Hine believed that realist photography was not only defined on aesthetic grounds but also served a social purpose.
He began freelance work for the National Child Labour Committee (NCLC) while teaching in New York. The NCLC was an agency whose purpose was to help enact laws prohibiting child labour. Hine's photographs of child workers helped the organisation prove that there was widespread abuse of the laws against child labour. In 1918 he became a captain in the Red Cross and travelled to France. Later he went to other parts of Europe to document the work of the Red Cross and the social impact of the First World War.
When he returned to New York, he moved away from representing people in the depths of oppression and produced images of people (mostly adults) working. He hoped to show working people the beauty in their way of life. Hine's reputation was not established at the time of his death in 1940. His importance as an artist with a progressive spirit was not debated until the 1960s.
This photograph can be found in Print Room Box 13a.