Lewis Hine Child Factory Labour

Sociologist and photographer Lewis Hine is best known for the impact his work had on changing child labour laws in the US. In 1909 Hine became the photographer for the National Child Labour committee. Who assigned him as an investigative journalist to photograph the children forced to work in the dreadful, unsafe conditions of mills and factories in the US. 

People were shocked by Hine's images as the amount of child labour across the United States that he captured was hidden from so many. Seeing is truly believing, and the use of visual language in these devastating photographs of the children in factories is so potent, that at that time I imagine one could only have felt distressed as a response to viewing these.

In looking further at these images in the book Kids At Work by Russell Freedman, I have found that  there is something about the way Hine captured the children in these photographs that makes them so powerful and heartbreaking to view. Hine for example in his photographs would use vantage points and framing in order to make the children look smaller in comparison to these big machines. He would also have adults in the background to really emphasise that these children are no more than twelve or thirteen years of age. The leading lines created by the rows of machines in these images make for some incredibly strong compositions and frame the children in an isolated way, that conveys just how venerable they are.

In this photograph above where we see an adult working in the distance we really get a sense of the common abuse of power by adults at this time using child labour. That a child no older than thirteen would be left to operate a dangerous machine by themselves for shifts that would last most of the day. In this particular photograph I found it upsetting that this child is forced to look away from the daylight and instead at this huge machine. In the modern world it is the norm for children to be in education and playing often as they discover and learn about the world around them, and sadly the children in these photographs were unable to have that opportunity. 

Something that occurred to me when studying these photographs is that the focal points of the images are always directly at the children. Which makes sense but these dangerous machines which could be explored further with the children in the image are ignored to a certain extent. I think this is because the eyes of the children and their hands really say it all. Because we would never want to see our own children looking so exhausted and demoralised, as they are complete polar opposites of how we would normally regard children. Therefore in terms of the subject matter of child labour that Hine was assigned to capture, these photographs powerfully communicated all they needed to on the issue.

I also find these historical photographs distressing because the imagery reminds me of scenes from the film Metropolis. Which is a work of science fiction where poor people were working underneath a city, almost killing themselves having to operate unthinkably dangerous machines. So seeing images that could be compared with that kind of subject matter even slightly, really conveys to me personally the severity of the issue Hine was trying to fight with his photographs. 

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