“How One Man’s Photography Transformed America”

Yes, Art Matters

How One Man's Photography Transformed America

Twenty four photographs from the early 20th century by sociologist Lewis Hine sold at auction recently, giving us a reminder of the impact of his work on life in America.

Hine began documenting migrants arriving at Ellis Island in 1904 before going to receive commissions from various social welfare agencies in order to bring visibility to the poorest parts of American society. Hine’s work was pivotal in eventually bringing about the end of child labor, and creating an awareness of what it meant to arrive in the U.S. as an immigrant.

Hine’s work predates the term photojournalism. “I wanted to show the things that had to be corrected,” Hine once explained, and his images supported the efforts of various movements – led by social workers, labor leaders, suffragists – in bringing about social reforms.

In the early 1900s, children were a common and cheap source of labor, often used in coal mines, meatpacking houses, textile mills and canneries. Bordering on slavery, not only was the work physically brutal with high accident rates, it was not unusual for children to experience abuse and exposure to vice. For immigrant families newly arrived in New York and Pittsburgh, sending children out to work in these conditions was unavoidable.

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