So far we have focused on fine art and commercial photographers in our You Should Know posts. Today I want to take a look at Lewis Hine – an early social documentarian who attempted to incite reforms through his work. What is interesting about Hine is how “fine-art” his images seem. If he was working today his work might be labelled “contemporary documentary”, similar to someone like Ed Burtynsky, but with much more purpose.
The Big Deal
Lewis Hine was one of the first photographers to actively try to create social change with his photos. He partnered with various organizations to shed light on issues, mainly child labour, but also drought during the Great Depression, immigration, and more. He also made a lot of work showcasing how individuals contributed to the modernization of society by photographing large building projects such as the Empire State Building.
Life in Brief
Born in 1874, in Wisconsin, Hine studied sociology at the Univeristy of Chicago, Columbia University, and New York University. He worked as a teacher in New York until he discovered his true calling as a photojournalist in the early 1900s. By 1908, Hine focused on photographing child labour by working for the National Child Labour Committee. Later in his career Hine shifted to photographing the human element within the modernizing world. In 1930 he was hired to document the construction of the Empire State Building. Hine died in 1940, he had lost support of the institutions that funded his earlier work and as a result lost his house and applied for welfare.