Lewis Hine, the father of social photography and a job that changed the United States

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On February 15, an auction was held of 24 photographs taken by Lewis Hine , belonging to the collection of the photographer Isador Sy Seidman. This auction reminds us of the work of who can be said was ‘the father of social photography’, as we mentioned in a previous section .

Lewis Hine, the father of social photography and a job that changed the United States
The Tenement family, Chicago, 1910 (Printed around 1931)

The photographs sold by Swan Auction Galleries are some examples of the captivating images captured by Hine. Images that give us a little glimpse into the past, but that probably changed the lives of immigrants and the history of the United States in the early 1900s.

America, the land of freedom

Lewis Hine, the father of social photography and a job that changed the United States
Boys of the newspaper, 1906 (Printed around 1931)

In the late 1800s, Ellis Island became the main customs port where immigrants came to the United States to start a new life . Those people who immigrated to the North American country had used all their resources to take their families across the ocean.

Lewis Hine, the father of social photography and a job that changed the United States
Power plant mechanic, circa 1921

However, many of the migrants had no education, money or migration experience. Chains of diseases affected the population, many died on the trip and many others were returned by where they arrived. Those who obtained their stamp came to the streets of New York, disoriented in this land that was indifferent or hostile to them, without food and excluded the slums of the city .

Lewis Hine, the father of social photography and a job that changed the United States
Hot day on the east side, New York City, around 1908 (printed around 1931)

In those days, under these conditions, survival created inhuman conditions for the poorest populations in the United States. Women, in addition to their role as housewives, should resort to extremes such as prostitution. The adult men had to work many shifts, mainly in construction, with working conditions that exposed their lives. And the children were forced to work in coal mines, textiles, canneries and meat distributors.

Lewis Hine, the father of social photography and a job that changed the United States
Artificial flowers, New York City, 1912 (printed around 1931)

The conditions were brutal for the entire poor class, putting them in a similar condition to slavery . Conditions that did not improve because, in addition, the public image of these immigrants was that of scum that should be feared and despised.

Photo stories of change

This is where Hine’s work comes in. This sociologist and photographer was surrounded by a circle of people who understood what it is to be a human being, have needs and want to seek welfare for the family. So, using the power of photography, he dedicated himself to show the lives of these immigrant families .

Lewis Hine, the father of social photography and a job that changed the United States
Russian family on Isla Ellis, 1905 (Printed around 1931)

His photograph showed the subjects with the greatest dignity and compassion . Exposing the conditions under which they worked. But, more importantly, he showed them as human beings .

Lewis Hine, the father of social photography and a job that changed the United States
Beneficiary of the house Hull, Italian grandmother, 1910

His work began in 1904, when he began working on Ellis Island documenting the arrival of families arriving in the United States. Taking his Graflex, initiating the flash dust, the explosion captured the first moments of these people wishing a new life in the land of freedom.

Lewis Hine, the father of social photography and a job that changed the United States
Ascending within America (Ellis Island group), 1908

This drew the attention of social workers, guild leaders and suffragettes who supported Hine’s work throughout the East Coast of the United States. Images that the photographer said showed the things that should be corrected .

Hine’s work led him to enter to capture moments in the textile factories, factories and workshops. This won him many enemies who wanted to keep that cheap labor. And it took him to face life threats , before which his response was to disguise himself to enter the places where he wished to document.

Lewis Hine, the father of social photography and a job that changed the United States
One of many young workers in the cotton factories of Carolina, 1910 (Printed around 1931)

Thanks to their efforts, laws on child labor were implemented and the situation of what it meant to immigrate to the United States was made aware ; changing that unpleasant image you had about these people looking for opportunities. His work not only documents a time of change in the country, but it was the beginning of the spirit of photojournalism as we know it today.

Lewis Hine, the father of social photography and a job that changed the United States
Patriarch on Isla Ellis, 1905 (Printed around 1931)
Lewis Hine, the father of social photography and a job that changed the United States
Printer, School of Ethical Culture, New York, 1905 (Printed around 1931)

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