Lot 11: HINE, LEWIS W. (1874-1940) "Spinner, Cotton Mill, Macon, Georgia."
October 4, 2012
New York, NY, USALive Auction
HINE, LEWIS W. (1874-1940)
"Spinner, Cotton Mill, Macon, Georgia." Silver print, 4 7/8x6 7/8 inches (12.4x17.5 cm.), with a National Child Labor Committee hand stamp and numeric notations, in pencil, in an unknown hand, on verso. 1909
Hine's career as a reformer began while he was employed at the Ethical Culture School, where he taught nature study and geography, and worked part-time as the school's staff photographer. During the period 1904-1914 his photographs addressed social issues relating to immigrant populations in New York City, child laborers in the northeast and south, and tenement family workers in Manhattan. Trained as an educator, Hine wrote eloquently about photography as a new, powerful force for societal change while referencing the medium's emerging artistic authority. He used a 5x7-inch Graflex view camera, but relied on darkroom technicians to make contact prints from his negatives. His innovative use of photographs and text, and insistence on controlling their visual presentation in social welfare journals, popular magazines, and illustrated books, position him as one of America's premier photographers and first photojournalists.
The combination of Hine's talent with the camera and his social conscience resulted in freelance assignments for the National Child Labor Committee, whose mission was to promote legislation prohibiting child labor. His earliest photographs were of "newsies" (children who sold newspapers) at night. The images were complemented with terse transcriptions of exchanges the boys had with one another. These idiomatic, slang-ridden dialogues underscored the harsh realities of the boys's lives.
Perhaps his most powerful photographs are of southern children laboring in mills. Given the hostility of owners and managers, Hine resorted to subertfuge to take his pictures. The intimate composition of this study depicts a child with a somewhat pained but dignified expression--proof that children were better served studying in schools than spending 14 hour days spinning cotton.
Hine's prescient recognition of photography as a communications tool found an appropriate outlet in the newsletters and handouts distributed by the NCLC to alert the public and legislators to the widespread existence of child laborers. In 1914 Hine coined the term "photo-story" to describe his innovative combinations of pictures and text, and in the 1920s-1930s worked on a series of projects that were published in political and popular magazines.