Lewis W. Hine
(Oshkosh, Wisconsin, 1874 - 1940, Dobbs Ferry, New York)
Although never professionally trained, Lewis Hine is widely regarded as one of the pioneers of social documentary photography. Hine was educated at the University of Chicago and New York University and began his career as a teacher. In 1901, Hine moved to New York City to teach at the progressive Ethical Culture School, which was allied with various social reform movements. Here he began photographing school events, but was soon asked by the principal of the school to take photographs of immigrants entering Ellis Island in order to combat the anti-immigrant prejudices of some of the school’s students.
In 1908, Hine left teaching to work for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC) investigating child labor in mines, factories and sweatshops in both urban and rural areas. The photographs he took for the NCLC were widely used in books, pamphlets and magazines that helped change U.S. labor policy. (Many of these child labor photographs are included in the collection of the Akron Art Museum.) In 1917, Hine began working for the American Red Cross documenting the plight of refugees in Europe. Hine was commissioned to document the construction of the Empire State Building in 1930, resulting in some of his most well-known work. (Topping the Mast, Empire State Building and Welders, Empire State Building, both from 1931, are included in the museum’s collection.) In 1932, Hine published these photographs in the book Men at Work. From 1936 to 1937, Hine worked as the head photographer of the National Research Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
Hine’s students included Paul Strand, who took his photography class at the Ethical Culture School in New York City, and Walter Rosenblum, who worked for Hine in the 1930s.