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Great American: Lewis Hine

Lewis Hine is a Great American and while his name is not well-known, his work is recognized around the world. Born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin on September 26, 1874, Lewis went on to study sociology at the University of Chicago, Columbia University and NYU. While teaching social work in New York, Hine incorporated his photography hobby into his work by taking his classes on picture taking field trips to Ellis Island and work places. Always motivated to help workers, it dawned on Hine that documenting workers in photographs may inspire pressure to improve their working conditions.

In the Pittsburgh Survey, Hine documented steel workers at work in Pennsylvania. Then he received a commission with the National Child Labor Committee, which he held for a decade documenting the terrible child labor conditions in the United States, especially in the textile industry. Working for the NCLC was not easy as those profiting from child labor did not want their working conditions exposed. Hine was under constant threat of violence and had to resort to using assumed identities in order to secure access to photograph his subjects in their mines, mills and factories.

Hine child cotton mill.jpg

During WWI Hine photographed for the Red Cross in Europe. In the early 1930s Hine photographed steel workers on skyscrapers such as the Empire State Building. Oddly, Hine was never a celebrated photographer in his day and earned little compensation for his efforts, dying destitute, his work dismissed. After he died, several museums including the Museum of Modern Art, refused the free offer of his photographs. Even today, Hine is not regarded as a great photographer by the art community. His photographs of real people, largely not posed and in their work element apparently fails to move the art critic, but that was not Hine's purpose or his audience. Hine took photographs for a more mundane reason, to make a difference in his subject's lives.

History has been kinder, and more accurate, to Hine's legacy. Historians have credited Hine's NCLC work documenting child labor conditions as influencing the public, and ultimately moving lawmakers in their distaste for child labor and passing eventual legal protections for kids working. Today Hine's work is recognized as a cultural force and he is regarded as one of the most important photographers of all-time.

McCormick Law Office in Milwaukee, Wisconsin represents workers hurt on the job, in the construction trades, manufacturing, transportation and other industries. Our practice focuses on serious neck and back injuries resulting in herniated discs, often cervical or lumbar surgery and permanent work restrictions in workers compensation. We have several photographic prints of this great American Lewis Hine proudly hanging on the walls in our office.

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