Lewis W. Hine, America’s First Photojournalist

Among the highlights in our October 22, 2009 Photographs & Photographic Literature auction is a stunning array of 15 images by social reformer-cum-photographer, Lewis W. Hine. His photographs addressed issues relating to immigrants in New York’s Lower East Side, industrial laborers in Pittsburgh, child workers in farms and factories, and racism.

The National Child Labor Committee: Documenting Child Labor Conditions

Hine started as a freelance photographer for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC), whose mission was to promote legislation prohibiting child labor. In 1908, he was hired as a full-time photographer for the agency and was also staff photographer for the social welfare magazine The Survey.

Related Reading: Photographer Lewis Hine & The Invention of the Photo Story

Trained as an educator, Hine wrote eloquently about photography as a new, powerful force for societal change. His recognition of the medium as a communications tool found an outlet in the extensive printed matter distributed by the NCLC to alert the media, public, and legislators to the proliferation of child workers, who often toiled in dangerous conditions.

Related Reading: The Social Document: Dorothea Lange’s ‘Migrant Mother’ and Dorothea Lange & Photography as a Tool for Social Change

Though he is considered a social documentary photographer, Hine is also seen as America’s first photojournalist. He coined the term “photo story” in 1914 to describe his innovative combinations of pictures and text and creatively employed the photo essay format throughout his career.  

According to The Getty Museum: “Lewis Hine was trained to be an educator in Chicago and New York. A project photographing on Ellis Island with students from the Ethical Culture School in New York galvanized his recognition of the value of documentary photography in education. Soon after, he became a sociological photographer, establishing a studio in upstate New York in 1912.”  

Related Reading: Beyond Migrant Mother: Five FSA Photographers to Know

Do you have a Lewis Hine photograph we should take a look at?

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