14 Junio 2017 14:42
Lewis Hine had all kinds of adventures on his mission to capture the portraits of these child workers and denounce their situation. Over time, his photos would contribute to changing mentalities and laws in the US.
It might be unthinkable today, but, just a century ago it was common for children to do all kinds of work.
In the United States, for example, they could be found delivering newspapers, working in cotton mills, in the cotton fields, down the mines or opening oysters on the docks in Baltimore.
However, not all of society held a favourable view on this. In 1904, a group of people founded the National Child Labour Committee of (NCLC) with the mission of ‘promoting the rights, awareness, dignity, well-being and education of children and youth as they relate to work and working.’
As part of their efforts to end child labour they hired photographer Lewis Hine. With his camera he was able to immortalise these scenes and, thereby, show the world the injustices those children were subjected to. No one gave them the opportunity to choose the lives they wanted to live. They were just told they had to work, and so they did.
Although at the time nobody could have known it, over the years, this was to become a truly legendary project. In fact, it would help to make Hine one of America’s great photographers.
To document the reality of those children, he spent years travelling across the country. He would often have to trick his way into workplaces to get the photo he wanted. Or more to the point, the proof he needed. And this is where the great value of his work lies. He overcame the most challenging of obstacles to document a situation that others simply wouldn’t have dared to.
Thanks to his work, the NCLC was able to put a face to its promotional and educational activities in the hope of raising awareness in the country.
Hine’s work was undoubtedly more complicated than that of today’s photographers, which is why photo historian, Daile Kaplan, has given her account on how he was capable of doing what he did:
‘Hine the actor and mimic assumed a variety of personas - including Bible salesman, postcard salesman and industrial photographer making a record of factory machinery - to gain entrance to the workplace.’
‘When unable to deflect his confrontations with management, he simply waited outside the canneries, mines, factories, farms and sweatshops with his 50 pounds of photographic equipment and photographed children as they entered and exited the workplace’
Against the odds, his work led to changes in awareness in the country and, moreover, contributed to changing labour laws.
However, Hine would not live long enough to appreciate the great value of his work. He died poor, and, back then, he would never have imagined that his photos would have stood the test of time as they have. He would also never have thought he would become one of the country’s most influential photographers. But that is how he is known today.