Friday, March 11, 2011

Arty Farty Friday ~ Photographer Lewis Hine - used the camera less for art more for social reform.

Lewis Hine was an American photographer during the first half of the 20th century - not an arty farty photographer, but one who used his camera as a tool to record social injustices, and child labor abuses, a means to raise awareness of the urgent need for reforms in a country growing so fast it could hardly keep up with itself.

He was born on 26 September 1874 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin (there's that state again!)

He studied sociology in college, became a teacher in New York, had the opportunity of using a camera as a tool in his teaching work, and was inspired by his interest in social welfare to photograph immigrants on Ellis Island.

A few years later he left teaching for the position of investigator and photographer for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC), and for some 8 years travelled extensively photographing child-labor abuses in sweatshops and factories where children were employed. In order to gain entrance to these workplaces Hine would pose as salesman, insurance agent etc. With an ease of communication gained from his teaching days he was able to obtain information about the children's circumstances at home, requirements at work, etc. If a child's age remained unknown Hines would estimate it from their height against the buttons on his vest.

His photographs helped lead to the passage of child labor laws.

A little spinner in the Mollahan Mills, Newberry, S.C. She was tending her "sides" like a veteran, but after I took the photo, the overseer came up and said in an apologetic tone that was pathetic, "She just happened in." Then a moment later he repeated the information. The mills appear to be full of youngsters that "just happened in," or " are helping sister." Dec. 3, 08. Witness Sara R. Hine. Location: Newberry, South Carolina. Date Created/Published: 1908 December

"Rose Biodo, Philadelphia, 10 years old. Working 3 summers, minds baby and carries berries, two pecks at a time. Whites Bog, Brown Mills, N.J. This is the fourth week of school and the people expect to remain here two weeks more."
By Lewis Hine, September 28, 1910

Boys "linking" bed-springs. 14 and 15 years old. Location: Boston, Massachusetts. 1917.

Callie Campbell, 11 years old, picks 75 to 125 pounds of cotton a day, and totes 50 pounds of it when sack gets full. "No, I don't like it very much." Location: Potawotamie County, Oklahoma.
Flossie Britt, 6 years old has been working several months steadily as spinner in the Lumberton Cotton Mills. Makes 30 cents a day. Lonnie Britt, 7 years old has been working steadily for 1 year as spinner. Makes 40 cents a day. Ages and data given me by their grandmother at home, and I saw them going and coming early and late. 2 smallest in group. 1914.

Adolescent girls from Bibb Mfg. Co. in Macon, Georgia.
A couple of decades later, in 1930/1 Hine was commissioned to photograph the construction of the Empire State building. His photographs of workers in precarious positions while they secured the iron and steel framework of the structure, entailed his taking many of the same risks the workers endured.

During The Great Depression Hine worked for the Red Cross, photographing drought relief in the American South, and was chief photographer for the Works Progress Administration's (WPA) National Research Project, which studied changes in industry and their effect on employment.

His life ended in undeserved poverty, following loss of government and corporate patronage, and public disinterest in his work. He died aged 66 following an operation.

"There are two things I wanted to do. I wanted to show the things that had to be corrected. I wanted to show the things that had to be appreciated" - Lewis Wickes Hine

Sun, Jupiter and Mercury in Libra, sign of balance. Libra's symbol, the scales, is a universal symbol of justice and matches well Hine's aim to aid in the correction of society's injustices.

Natal Saturn (the law, limitation) at 7 Aquarius (social consciousness) harmoniously trines the three Libra planets bringing a pretty strong urge for social reform into Hine's makeup.

Photography is represented by Neptune in astrology. Here Neptune has just moved into Taurus - at 00 degree, with Moon in Aries (without birth time degree cannot be established). If Hine were born late in the day, though, Moon would have been close to Neptune, close enough to be considered conjunct - I'd guess this to be the case.

Saturn in Aquarius, as well as trining the Libra planets, is in opposition to Uranus in Leo. Such Saturn/Uranus oppiositions are always interesting. Symbolically they represent the traditional versus the avant garde, establishment values versus radical values. Here it's another echo of his Libran search for balance and justice.
Collection of Lewis Hine's child labor photographs with original captions and explanations by Hine at The History Place:


anyjazz said...

I think every photographer is, in at least a small way, commenting on society. Each frame calls from the past to say: “This is the way things are now.”

But there are some who use the camera to bring about social change. The prints may be lost, the negatives destroyed, but seen once, some images still never go away.

Photographs help us to look back, if only to assure ourselves that if we have not progressed, we have at least changed.

Gian Paul said...

A great-hearted person, Sun conjunct his Jupiter in Libra, sign of empathy and justice. Opposed to his rather vulnerable Moon in Aries, he could not help otherwise than by photographing what he saw.

But he did it well! Know of a few others of similar quality, lucky me.

Twilight said...

anyjazz ~~ Yes. Nicely put aj.
Like history, we don't repeat ourselves, but we produce rhyming events and situations. Luckily, at least in some cases, we have pictorial evidence thanks to men like Hine.

Twilight said...

Gian Paul ~~~ Yes. He made sure that his subjects retained their dignity, whatever their circumstances.
As you say - he did it well.

R J Adams said...

Hmmm, if Scott Walker and his ilk got their way we'd all be back in those days. America needs more Lewis Hines.

Wisewebwoman said...

I've seen some of his photos before, the child workers made me feel ill, their ancient faces, their poor hands.
As to the New York skyline - these are iconic and I can't even imagine sitting out over the open sky on such flimsy scaffolding, I'm dizzy looking :-)

Twilight said...

RJ Adams ~~~~ Very true! Left to his own devices I doubt old Scotty would have the wherewithall, but with Kochs pulling his strings, yes. They'd have us all back in the early 1900s (at best).

Twilight said...

WWW ~~~~ Yes some are hard to take, and to think about. Thank goodness we have the photographs though - as a warning.