December 29, 2012

Lewis Hine - Child labor

"Lewis Wickes Hine (September 26, 1874 Oshkosh, Wisconsin– November 3, 1940) was an American sociologist and photographer. Hine used his camera as a tool for social reform. His photographs were instrumental in changing the child labor laws in the United States". That's the lines opening the wikipedia notice about this photographer. But today, the emotions we feel looking at these images are much more complex than this historical and sociologist approach. I don't have the necessary lexicon to describe them so I leave it to fluent English writers. What's sure is that once seen, most of these pictures never leave our memory and some of them will stayed as some talisman of what is humanity. Among this complexity, there's this strange sensation that these children are still alive, that we don't look at images of the long time gone past but children of today. This is never the case with adults who belong tightly to the period the image was taken (and we'll belong to ours too). But children have no temporal fixation, they travel through time and civilisations without being altered. And least but not last, many of these pictures are also great pictures by their own. Not only historical documents or "reportages" but art for sure. But of course, the fact that from 1906 to 1912, he did all these essential shots of children working in the most incredibly miserable conditions in a country supposed to be the quintessence of progress and democracy has to be considered as the pivotal axe of this work. He pursued his work with adult workers all his life until his death in 1940 at 66. His name should never been forgotten. Note that a writer called Joe Manning is doing a totally crazy project, trying to recompose the biography of the children photographed by Lewis Hine. Crazy but wonderful idea. Here the site of this project. Some of the children above have now a part of their lives reconstructed. For example, the 7 yr old boy of the first picture of the series, called Byron Hamilton, had his life reconstructed by Joe Manning (read here). I used yesterday 2 pictures of this series to create a (virtual) cover sleeve for a compilation of all the singles and EPs released by Television Personalities between 1989 and 1999. For the front cover sleeve, I took the one with Byron showing his finger. You can find it here. These songs deserve to be heard as these pictures to be seen.

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