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  • Provenance

    Laurence Miller Gallery, New York

  • Catalogue Essay



    Cities do not build themselves, machines cannot make machines, unless [at the] back of them all are the brains and toils 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.
    Lewis Hine, Men at Work, 1932
    Lewis Hine’s interest in photographing people whose life teetered on the socio-economic margins began in 1901, when he became a teacher at the Ethical Culture School in New York under the leadership of Frank A. Manny, a vocal advocate for advanced teaching principles. Initially, Hine photographed subjects within the school walls. However, encouraged by Manny’s reiteration that photography was an educational tool, Hine soon began shooting immigrants in Ellis Island as a way of challenging his students’ discrimination against their foreign peers. The experience at Ellis Island was a challenge for Hine himself, struggling to communicate with individuals who did not speak his language. Soon thereafter, in tandem with his occupation as teacher/photographer at the school, Hine pursued a Master’s degree in sociology.
    Following his tenure at the school and completion of higher education, Hine decided to fuse his skills together to pursue socially-oriented photography on a full-time scale. During that period, through his close friendships with the editors of the newly founded social weekly magazine, Charities and the Commons, (later renamed The Survey), Hine began travelling across the country to document working conditions for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC.) Refuting claims that denied the existence of the dire working conditions, Hine produced over one-thousand photographs, which he likened to "detective work."
    Perhaps as a means of enhancing the impact of the images, Hine captioned each work, sometimes identifying the location, in others the individuals. Most commonly, though, were mentions of the children’s age—some as young as five, and the meager compensations—some as low as ten cents a day. Startling, too, are the conditions listed matter-of-factly: a five year old forced to carry fifteen pounds of cotton; a child with malaria forced into labor; a young girl barely aware of her own name; group pictures taken in stealth for fear of retaliating bosses.
    As a self proclaimed "concerned photographer," Hine took advantage of the growing accessibility of print media to American homes in order to raise consciousness of all that transpired behind factory walls and industrial expansions. Hine’s images, taken in canneries, tobacco manufacturers, glassworks and spinning mills, demanded a closer inspection of the ethics and regulations that were breached to attain it. Following the wide dissemination of the images across the country, the NCLC successfully passed legislation in 1916, signed by President Woodrow Wilson, prohibiting child labor.
    The following full or partial descriptions appear on the back of the individual frames:
    (a) Group of young workers in Merrimack Mill (not the youngest). December 1913.
    (b) Only 50% of the pupils are present at School #3, Dist. #3, Ft. Morgan, Colorado. October 1915.
    (c) Group of spinners in the Elk Cotton Mills. Youngest girl hardly know her name. Youngest boy runs two sides at ten cents each day, Fayetteville, Tennessee. November 1910.
    (d) All these work in Peerless Cyuter Co. Had to get the photo while bosses were at dinner as they refused to permit children in the photos. March, 1911.
    (e) This boy has worked in Payne Cotton Mill, Macon, GA, two sides, and earns 52 cents a day. January, 1909.
    (f) These are all workers in Richmond Hosiery. December 1910.
    (g) Rommel home, 430 N. Loomis St. Ft. Collins, CO. Home boarded up for six months this year while family lived in the little shack down in 4040. October 1915.
    (h) Family of J. W. Lott at West. The father and three oldest children (two of them under legal age) work regularly in the Valley Cotton Mill. November 1913.
    (i) Workers in the Nokomis Cotton Mill, Lexington, N.C. The smallest boy said he was 11 years old and makes 50 cents a day. October 1912.
    (j) Part of a family of Louis Benken-Dorfer a Bohemian farmer who owns this farm of eighty. November 1913.

249

Selected Images from the National Child Labor Committee

1909-1915
Ten gelatin silver prints.
Each 4 5/8 x 6 5/8 in. (11.7 x 16.8 cm).
Each with printed description and dates on labels affixed to the reverse of the frames.

Estimate
$18,000 - 22,000 

Sold for $20,000

PHOTOGRAPHS

16 April 2010
New York