America & Lewis Hine: Photographs 1904-1940 : [exhibition]
Aperture, Incorporated, 1977 - Documentary photography - 142 pages
A compassionate realist in the tradition of Stephen Crane and Theodore Dreiser, Lewis Hine had the rare gift of being able to transcend the assignments he received as a documentary photographer by investing the most topical subject with lasting human quality.
Seventy years after they were made, his Ellis Island pictures are still intensely moving: the newly arrived immigrants caught in all their bewilderment-- uncertain as to whether they will even be admitted to the promised land.
Hine's dynamic images changed the way Americans looked at social conditions. Hine put his life on the line to capture a truthful picture of people at work. He risked physical attack in order to expose the brutal exploitation of child labor; then, years later, he had himself suspended from the hundredth floor of the Empire State Building to preserve on film the workers who were in the process of erecting it.
Never content merely to depict labor's dehumanizing features, Hine shows us the dignity of work, the workers dominate the instruments of their labor-- the open hearths, mine pits, shovels, tongs and trolleys. Only a consummate camera-artist could have made such pictures, with their poignant qualities of light and shadow, their inescapable presence: all the more remarkable when we consider his cumbersome instrument-- a tripod-mounted 5 x 7 view camera with slides, flash pan, and powder.
How bitterly ironic that this artist and social reformer, after devoting his life to working people, should end up as so many of his subjects did-- on a welfare line. Decades earlier, he had written: "For many years I have followed the procession of child workers winding through a thousand industrialcommunities from the canneries of Maine to the fields of Texas. I have heard their tragic stories, watched their cramped lives, and seen their fruitless struggles in the industrial game where the odds are all against them."
Like Walt Whitman before him, Lewis Hine viewed his work and art as grounded in the fluid movements of everyday lives, of history, the present and the future, expressing with vividness and responsiveness the hope for America revived in a sense of great community, and democracy as a life of free and enriching communion.
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