PREVIOUSLY ON ECOUTERRE: Worst Forms of Child Labor Occur in India’s Garment Industry, Says Report
“Jewel and Harold Walker, 6 and 5 years old, pick 20 to 25 pounds of cotton a day” in Comanche County, Okla., 1916.
HISTORY IN PICTURES
For nearly two decades, Hine traveled the country with with a 5-by-7-inch box camera, outdated even by 1904 standards, an old-fashioned bulb shutter, glass-plate negatives, and magnesium flash powder for illumination.
Hine courted suspicion from business owners, supervisors, and workers wherever he went, at times risking real, physical danger.
“He would set the camera on its rickety wooden tripod, focus the lens, insert the glass plate, dust his flashpan with powder, and with his own gestures and looks try to encourage the pose and expressions he wanted,” wrote Russell Freedman in Kids at Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor (Sandpiper, 1998). “Then he would raise the flashpan and ignite the powder…One shot was all he had. There was no chance to make a second exposure.”
Hine courted suspicion from business owners, supervisors, and workers wherever he went, at times risking real, physical danger in places where he wasn’t welcome. He often had to “bluff” his way to gain access to his subjects.
“Nattily dressed in a suit, tie, and hat, Hine the gentleman 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,” described Daile Kaplan in Photo Story: Selected Letters and Photographs of Lewis W. Hine (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992). “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.”
“This little girl like many others in this state is so small she has to stand on a box to reach her [knitting] machine” in Loudon, Tenn., 1910.
By the end of his tenure, Hine had amassed more than 5,000 prints, each one meticulously captioned. Photography, Freedman said, gave Hine an opportunity to practice his belief in social justice and reform, as well as to express the “compassion he felt for the underdog.”
By the end of his tenure, Hine had amassed more than 5,000 prints, each one meticulously captioned.
More than a record of existing conditions, Hine’s photos were a “powerful weapon in the crusade against child labor,” one that eventually led President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to sign the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, which set set minimum-wage and maximum-hour standards, along with limitations on underage labor.
One newspaper reporter from Alabama, in particular, was bowled over by the power the images held. “There has been no more convincing proof of the absolute necessity of child-labor laws…than these pictures showing the suffering, the degradation, the immoral influence, the utter lack of anything that is wholesome in the lives of these poor little wage-earners,” he wrote. “They speak far more eloquently than any [written] work—and depict a state of affairs which is terrible in its reality—terrible to encounter, terrible to admit that such things exist in civilized communities.”
[Via the Daily Mail]