Last Updated July 13, 2018
Lewis Hine, The Ball Team. Composed mainly of glass workers. Indiana. Source, 1908. US Library of Congress

Lewis Hine

American (Born 1874 - Died 1940 ) PREMIUM LISTING Featured
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Influence: Historically influential or important


Lewis Hine, Adolescent Girl, a Spinner, in a Carolina Cotton Mill, 1908. Princeton University Art Museum
Lewis Hine, Addie Card, 12 years. Spinner in North Pormal Cotton Mill, 1910. US Library of Congress
Lewis Hine, Raising the Mast, Empire State Building, 1932
Lewis W. Hine was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, in 1874. He studied sociology at Chicago and New York universities, becoming a teacher, then took up photography as a means of expressing his social concerns. He is one of the most important documentary photographers of the 20th Century. Because the notion of photojournalism and documentary did not exist at the time, Hine called his projects "photo stories", using images and words to fight for the causes he believed in. Many of Hine's most well-known projects feature the poor and disadvantaged from the Carolinas, New York and Pittsburgh.

Hine spent years dedicated to his many projects, creating photographs that depicted his subjects with dignity and compassion. In 1904, he began to document the immigrants arriving at Ellis Island. His aim was to give a human face to the newly arrived families, who were often feared by New Yorkers. After asking his subjects' permission, Hine would set up his shot and ignite the flash powder, which would go off with a loud bang, producing lots of dramatic black smoke.

In 1908 he left his teaching position for a full-time job as an investigative photographer for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC), which was then conducting a major campaign against the exploitation of American children. He set out to capture scenes in factories, mills and workshops that would later be used as evidence to clamp down on child exploitation. He was so hated by the factory and mill owners employing children that he would often have to go about his work in disguise, for fear of his own safety. He was frequently threatened by factory police and foremen.

As a result of his photographs, child labour laws in the United States were revolutionised. The photographs have also resulted in a stunning documentary record of the conditions of ordinary working people and migrants at the beginning of the 20th Century.

During and after World War I he photographed American Red Cross relief work in Europe. In the 1920s and early 1930s, Hine made a series of "work portraits," which emphasized the human contribution to modern industry. In 1930, Hine was commissioned to document the construction of the Empire State Building. He photographed the workers in precarious positions while they secured the steel framework of the structure, taking many of the same risks that the workers endured. In order to obtain the best vantage points, Hine was swung out in a specially-designed basket 1,000 ft above Fifth Avenue.

The last years of his life were filled with professional struggles by loss of government and corporate patronage. Few people were interested in his work, past or present, and Hine lost his house and applied for welfare. He died on November 3, 1940 at Dobbs Ferry Hospital in Dobbs Ferry, New York, after an operation. He was 66 years old.

After Hine's death, his son donated his prints and negatives to the Photo League, which was dismantled in 1951. The Museum of Modern Art was offered his pictures and did not accept them, but the George Eastman House did.

The Library of Congress in the USA holds over 5,000 Hine photographs, including examples of his child labour and Red Cross photographs, and his work portraits. Many can be viewed by searching the Library of Congress website Other large institutional collections include nearly ten thousand of Hine's photographs and negatives held at the George Eastman House and almost five thousand photographs at the Albin O. Kuhn Library & Gallery of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.