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sense is what Hine's photographs speak. In 1910 New York State was building a new barge canal, and New York City an aqueduct for its water supply system. Each was spending $100 million on the great engineering projects. And all the day labor was being done by foreigners. By foreigners living in intolerable conditions in construction camps. Conditions which Hine set down in a remarkable document to accompany a study made by Lillian D. Wald and Frances A. Kellor as members of the New York State Immigration Commission. That labor which built America was lamentably underpaid, ill treated and exploited. That labor, indeed, is America. As children, seven, eight, nine, working in cotton field and mill, are America. As the Slovaks, Russians, Italians, Jews, working in steel mills, coal mines, garment factories, are America. As the children in New Jersey cranberry bogs are America. As Gloucester fishermen are America. As every man, woman and child at work comprise the portrait–-and indeed the destiny–-of the American nation. SINCE HINE, MANY PHOTOGRAPHERS HAVE recorded this ever continuing history. Thirty years ago, however, Hine was a pioneer, as his parents had been pioneers in Wisconsin. For that generation art and social welfare were continents apart. Edwin Abbey, Sargent and the Boston Public Library set the cultural standard. In another world, stern high-minded men and women labored for the improvement of the condition of the poor, for child labor legislation and for laws controlling the hours of work for women. Those early backers of Hine–-the Kelloggs, The Survey, the National Child Labor Committee and its executive secretary, Owen R. Lovejoy, Florence Kelley of the National Consumers League, and the Pittsburgh Survey–-were the first to discover that photographic art had anything to do with social progress. Hine's photographs had an immediate sociological usefulness and effect, as Owen R. Lovejoy testifies: "In my judgment the work you did under my direction for the National Child Labor Committee was more responsible than any or all other efforts to bring the facts and conditions of child employment to public attention." Photography was still battling for its creative integrity. The Photo-Secession had been formed, and Camera Work had been appearing since 1905. But the secessionists, led by Alfred Stieglitz, were not convinced that social reform was art, though unquestionably (in their minds) photography was. HINE OCCUPIED AN UNENVIABLE POSITION. On the one hand, he was told that what he was doing was all very well, but not art, and on the other hand, that he did not possess a broad sociological background. Only a genuinely simple and sturdy soul could have withstood the pressure. If literature must supply a symbol for his character, perhaps the folklorists' "male Cinderella" is best. His innocence, naïveté and simplicity saved him when a more complicated nature might have gone under during years of neglect and lack of recognition. The above is not quite correct, however. Actually Hine had an extraordinary amount of success in his pioneering. Although the magazines and organizations which wanted his photographs for social propaganda could not pay large sums for his work, nevertheless they supplied channels of publication and support which many another man has not had. The great pioneer, Brady, supported his Civil War documentation from money he had made in commercial photography. Atget never had any recognition or support during his life. The drama of Hine's life is that history's rapid tempo has carried us beyond what he originally did and that in the haste of living, the younger generation does not have time to even know its spiritual progenitors, let alone appreciate them. Now what is the total of Hine's contribution to society? After four years as school photographer for the Ethical Culture School, he burst into maturity. This was no precocious blooming, for Lewis W. Hine was born in 1874 and it was not till 1908 that he began his serious documentary photographing. Five years saw a remarkable series of photographs on child labor, sweatshops, immigrants, slum housing conditions, construction camps, migratory occupations. Then the war and service with the Red Cross. After the war, history altered. Reconstruction, yes, for war-torn Europe. But for the United States, a new place in world politics, a dominant financial and economic position which shifted the center of power to Wall Street. Slums we still had. Child labor was still with us; the child labor amendment was shamelessly defeated. But we had prosperity; we had untouched national resources; we had power; we were going places. In such an area, muckraking was bad taste. True, the liberals and progressives held on; the still, small voice of social reform went on speaking through the same undaunted agencies. But the direction of men's thinking had been deflected. Great skyscrapers sprang up; technology flourished. And–Hine had an idea. In his own words, the idea was: "In Paris, after the armistice, I thought I had done my share of negative documentation. I wanted to do something positive. So I said to myself, 'Why not do the worker at work? The man on the job?' At that time, he was as underprivileged as the kid in the mill." And so Lew Hine struck out on a new tack with the help of Survey Graphic. He began to photograph railroad workers, power workers, men in factories with dynamos and great levers and gears. Ultimately this led to Men at Work, photographically chronicling the erection of the 1248 foot high Empire State Building. Here one may point out that the early work was by no means "negative." It played a vital part in educating the public about social problems. Today it is known to possess authentic plastic merit. Finally, it presents the future with an indisputable record of our immediate American past. NOW, AT SIXTY-FOUR, LEW HINE FACES rediscovery. Not, of course, by readers of Survey Graphic, but by that newer generation of photographers–-and public-–who are growing up in the documentary ideal. In assessing his character, it is difficult to weigh precisely all the substances and essences. Hine is like that barrel of flashlight powder. He poured some in his flashpan and let it off, never knowing if the aperture should be ƒ.8 or ƒ.80! In factories where the boss would forbid flashlights, he had to take time exposures. But again, there was a lack of precise measurement, of exact knowledge. No exposure meters, fine grain developers, costly equipment for Hine. Neither temperament nor finances permitted. So he lived and worked by instinct, his own simple character the surest aid to his objective. Looking back over thirty years, every one who cares about social advance–-and art, as part of that advance–-can be thankful there was no false estheticism about the business, no preciousness or spiritual aloofness. On the contrary, the meaning and purpose came first, the art after, a hopeful augury for present day documentary photography which looks back to Lewis W. Hine as an essential link in its tradition. OCTOBER 1938 503
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