Lewis Wickes Hine 1874 —1940

Biography

Lewis Wickes Hine was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin in 1874. After graduating from High School, he worked at various jobs before enrolling at the University of Chicago in 1900. While at the University of Chicago, Hine met Frank E. Manny, Professor of Education at the State Normal School who had recently been appointed superintendent of the Ethical Culture School in New York. In 1901, at the invitation of Manning, Hine moved to New York City and accepted a position as an assistant teacher at the ECS. Hine began at this time to use a camera as an educational tool and to photograph school events. Hine also began to attend the School of Education at New York University.

In 1904, Hine, newly married to Sara Ann Rich became involved in a project to photograph Ellis Island. Anti Immigrant sentiment was pervasive and Manny encouraged Hine to portray the newly arrived with the same dignity and respect as those immigrants who landed at Plymouth Rock.

By 1905, Hine had received his degree from New York University. Continuing to photograph for the ECS and while conducting its Photography Club, he met Paul Strand. By 1906 Hine was considering a career in Sociological Photography and began to pursue freelance work with the National Child Labor Committee. In 1907, the NCLC gave Hine his first assigned project. Hine was to photograph New York tenement homework. Later that year after enrolling at the graduate school of Columbia University to study sociology, Paul U. Kellogg assigned Hine to a pioneering sociological project, The Pittsburgh Survey. This survey was to be an all encompassing detailed view of a typical industrial city. The survey showed the gap between the largely unskilled immigrant workers and the comfortable middle class of managers, executives and politicians. The goal of the survey was to promote a rational understanding of the social and economic inequities. It was believed that a greater public awareness would result in corrective social action.

In 1908, the NCLC provided Hine with a monthly salary and assigned Hine to photograph child labor practices. For the next several years, Hine traveled extensively, photographing children in mines, factories, canneries, textile mills, street trades and assorted agricultural industries. Hine's photographs alerted the public to the fact that child labor deprived children of childhood, health, education and a chance of a future. His work on this project was the driving force behind changing the publics attitude and was instrumental in the fight for stricter child labor laws.

In 1912, with a future home in mind for their newborn son, Corydon, the Hine's also purchased land in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. By 1913, Hine had established himself as perhaps the most successful social welfare photographer. For the next several years, He continued to travel as well as lecture for the NCLC. Several exhibits, particularly in San Diego and San Francisco, further established his reputation.

In 1917, after his salary at the NCLC was reduced, Hine accepted a position with the American Red Cross. During the next couple of years, Hine photographed refugees and displaced civilians in war torn Europe. Hine returned to New York City in 1920 and was assigned to the American Red Cross National Headquarters. Hine's advertising publicity now read "Lewis Wickes Hine, Interpretive Photography" and reflected Hine's belief in the symbolic and artistic aspect of his work. This belief may have been reinforced by a visit in 1921 to an exhibit of photographs by Alfred Stieglitz.

During the 1920's, Hine returned to Ellis Island, doing assignments for various agencies and publications. He also undertook various commercial assignments and in 1924 the Art Directors Club of New York awarded him a medal at the Exhibition of Advertising Arts.

In spite of the fame and recognition he received, Hine found difficulty making a living at photography. Then, in 1930 Hine was hired to photograph the construction of the Empire State Building. Where much of Hine's previous work had documented the dark side of labor and progress, the Empire State Building photographs celebrated the dignity and productivity of a proud post war American labor force.

In 1931, the largest exhibit yet of Hine's work took place at the Yonkers Art Museum. Shortly afterward in 1932 Hine's book Men at Work was published. In the 1930's Hine printed several portfolios, including Through The Loom which was obtained by the Brooklyn Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum and was exhibited at the 1933 Worlds Fair. In 1936-37, Hine was appointed head photographer for the National Research Project of the Works Progress Administration. Attempts at this time to secure work with the Farm Services Administration proved unsuccessful as Roy Stryker considered Hine unfashionable and difficult to work with.

In 1939, sponsorship for a Hine retrospective of specially made large prints at the Riverside Museum in New York city was arranged and included, among others, Paul Strand and Alfred Stieglitz. This exhibit also traveled to the Des Moines Fine Arts Association Gallery in Iowa and the New York State Museum in Albany. After Lewis Hine's death in 1940, Corydon Hine donated his fathers prints and negatives to the Photo League after finding little interest elsewhere. Eventually these materials were donated by the Photo League to the George Eastman House. 

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