Friday, April 30, 2010

Lewis Hine

Since the earliest days of photography, there have been photographers who followed the latest art movements and even created new ones to get one step ahead of the traditionalists. At the turn of the century, photography was becoming a new form of fine art. Out of that very pictorial age, America was moving quickly into an industrial modernistic era, a boy was born who would change the way many people thought about Photography.
Lewis Hine was born in Oshkosh Wisconsin, on 26th September 1874, to an ordinary working class family. His Father was killed in a tragic accident in 1890. He and his three sisters were brought up solely by their mother. After leaving school at 16 Lewis took on a number of unskilled jobs, which included being a delivery boy and upholsterer. In the evenings he studied stenography and book-keeping at night school. He got a job at a local bank in 1895 working as a cleaner to help support his Mother and sisters. He worked his way up to book-keeper.
It was in 1899 that Hine’s life changed when he met Frank Manny, a professor of education and psychology and a respected member of the progressive movement. Manny was the head of an experimental education school. With Manny’s help in 1900 Hine enrolled at University, where he studied sociology, philosophy and elementary education. In 1901 Frank Manny became head the Ethical culture school in New York. He offered Hine a job as natural sciences teacher, which he accepted.
In 1902 Hine was introduced to photography when Manny asked him to record school activities. At this time Hine knew little about photography. He was given a 5” x 7” Graflex camera. He soon learnt how to use the camera and develop his own pictures. The process captivated his imagination, and he started to take his pupils out to photograph nature. The camera became an excellent addition to his lessons, and he used it as a mainstay tool.

Hine pictured here in one of the few pictures of Hine using the camera

He found that if words were not enough to describe something, then the photographic evidence was there to back it up. He began to create photographs for a couple of agencies, highlighting the plights of the poor. It was the camera, and how it could show others graphic evidence that led Hine on to his first major project, the arrival of immigrants at Ellis Island, which was the clearing station in New York harbour.

Ellis Island 1904-1906
The camera, he hoped would change the attitudes of many Americans to the influx of immigrants at Ellis Island. His main aim was to give some respect and dignity to people who had left their homes and travelled across the ocean in very poor and unhealthy conditions to make a new life in a strange and foreign land. These people were depicted by many reporters as ‘Dumb beasts, only fit for hard labour’. There were plenty of condescending attitudes towards the immigrants. But these people were needed because of America’s industrial expansion; the modernist industrial age had arrived. They were simply cheap labour. As many as 5000 immigrants a day passed through Ellis Island between 1906 and 1926
Hine saw these poor souls through different eyes, than his elder contemporaries, such as Jacob Riis, who took similar pictures to report and shock rather than portraying them as humans. Hine had the eyes of a passionate and caring man, who believed we were all equal. Through his almost candid style pictures, he wanted to show the immigrants in a softer light, ignoring all the muck-raking that placed barriers to social progress and integration. He strove to show them as ‘fully human’ and asked that they be given equal respect.

All of Hine’s subjects at Ellis Island were aware of his presence. None of the photographs would have been possible without their cooperation. Amidst crowds of anxious and sometimes very scared people, Hine had to find his subject, isolate them from sometimes 700 people crammed in a space suitable for 600. He then had to set the pose almost always without words, as only about 20% of the people arriving at Ellis Island could speak English due to the fact that they came from agricultural regions of southern and Eastern Europe, these were simple folk. You also have to remember that Hine didn’t carry a 35mm ‘point and shoot’ camera. He carried around a large 7” x 5” camera, glass plates, heavy tripod, flash and a box of flash power. Hine’s images were used frequently by leaders of the progressive movement in various campaigns.
These photographs set his path on a career that ran in a period of social ferment and reform. Undoubtedly, there was a ‘great public interest in the issue of immigration’ when he started his project in 1904, he was not the first, or only, photographer to work at Ellis Island, but his approach was different from the others of his time, Hine ignored the reaction of modernist photography against the pictorial styles of the time, and shot what he wanted to show. Below is an image of a woman, and you can see by her face how she feels, and that’s what Hine captured....Feeling. No one really knows why Hine chose Ellis Island to be his first photographic study, nor how he developed his own unique style to express his thoughts and feelings towards these people. But whatever happened, it made the teacher Lewis Hine give up all he had known to become a professional social reform photographer, to document the lives of people less fortunate than himself.

In 1906 Hine began to sell images to Paul Kellogg, editor of the popular magazine Charities and Commons (which later became Survey magazine in 1909.)

The magazine gave Hine his earliest support and publication. He also started to freelance his work to the National Child Labour Committee (NCLC), and in 1908, he quit his job at the Ethical Culture School and became the staff photographer for the NCLC as well as being the staff photographer for Kellogg’s magazine. His next project was to change the lives of many.
He was commissioned by NCLC to become an investigative reporter. In which he was asked to complete a large scale survey of child labour, to make notes and take photographs to record the exploitation of children. The government reported at that time that there were 1,750,178 children between the ages of 10–15 working in mines, on farms and factories, even selling newspapers. The worst conditions found were in the cotton mills of North and South Carolina, where it was documented that 50% of workers were around 10 years old. (Koetzle, 2002, p. 147) Every picture Lewis Hine took had a kind of magic to it. Most of the children looked fairly happy, and some even boasted of their earning power. As a photographer Hine managed to capture something a lot of photographers of that time missed and that was ‘feeling’. Between 1906 and 1918 he took over 5000 pictures of illegal child labour.

Girl worker in a Carolina cotton mill 1908 (4 ½ x 6 ½) (Koetzle, 2002, p. 144)

Breaker boys Pittston, Pennsylvania (1911)
His photographs didn’t really impact laws regarding child labour until the first public viewings, very quickly it was known that they could no longer tolerate seeing these poor exploited children. It was this turning point that helped to change the social landscape. Hine’s photographic evidence caused a downturn in the use of child labour, and in 1916 congress placed restrictions on the employment of children under 14 years of age in factories and shops. Owen Lovejoy, Chairman of the National Child Labour Committee, wrote, ‘The work you did under my direction was more responsible than any or all other efforts to bring the facts or conditions of child labour employment to public attention.’ (photography)
Hine went on to do several more assignments for the NCLC. In 1917 he was made head of the exhibitions department within the organisation, which included the design of posters and leaflets to advertise the mission of the NCLC,

After a cut in wages in 1917, Hine left and accepted a position with the Red Cross photographing refugees and displaced citizens in war torn Europe.

Circa, 1918 - 1919
And more famously, recorded the construction of the Empire State Building, in which his style changed slightly; his eye seemed to become more modernistic. Although he showed workers in impoverished conditions, he also showed them in a new light, as heroes. His book ‘Men at work’ came out in 1932 and was dedicated to Frank Manny.

It said;
“This is a book of Men at Work; men of courage, skill, daring and imagination. Cities do not build themselves; machines cannot make machines, unless back of them all are brains and toil of men. We call this the machine age. But the more machines we use the more do we need real men to make and direct them”. (Jeffrey)
Amazingly He was held in low esteem by other photographers for many years. Hine himself never really saw himself as a ‘professional photographer’, but simply used the camera as a tool. By 1938 he was living in extremely impoverished circumstances with hardly or no income from photographic work. His life simply dried up. He lost his wife, due to illness, and almost gave up, but he was encouraged to prepare a travelling retrospective of his work, which finally opened in January of 1939. Hine died in November 1940 after an operation, just as he started to earn the respect he deserved.

His influence can be seen in the work of many photographers that followed including, Dorothea Lange, Carl Mydans, plus in the works of Paul Strand who was taught by Hine himself. As shown below, Robert Frank who gave us ‘The Americans’ in 1957 was very much influenced by Hine’s work.
And even today his influence can be seen in many unknown photographers’ styles, I’m not sure who exactly took the images below, but as you can see Hine’s imagery lives on.

Lewis Wickes Hine left behind a legacy that changed the face of social documentary photography.

‘There are two things I wanted to do.

I wanted to show the things that had to be corrected.

I wanted to show the things that had to be appreciated’

- Lewis Wickes Hine


My Iphone hipstamatic

Monday, April 12, 2010

Queer as folk!

Well for the past week it's been a sunny sunny Cornwall, the daffodils are out and as soon as I can grab some time I'm out to......With my cameras.

I have noticed through experiment that if I stand in the middle of the pavement with a small point and shoot camera clicking off pictures nobody takes any notice apart from I'm stood still on the pavement therefore i'm in their way! Now I took my digital Slr to the same spot and the reaction of the public was only what I can describe as a frown, they seemed annoyed that I may have taken their picture!! OK because I noticed this change in attitude I decided to take my 1958 rollieflex to the same spot, and guess what attitudes changed again! This time it was more of a look of interest and intrigue and older folks stopped to tell me that they had a camera like that once, but not one frown! OK I decided on the big one, I took my 1890 plate camera to the same spot, and you guessed it attitudes were again changed, this time 60% of the people asked what I was doing or they asked questions about the camera! Until.....................I got moved on the the police for causing an obstruction, I packed my equipment up and chatted to Mr Plod about why he felt I was an obstruction, he was very nice and said it wasn't me who was the problem, but I was the cause of the problem, simply because every one stopped to see what I was doing. The morel is the bigger and more interesting your camera is....the more likely you are to get arrested!!!!!!!