Lewis Hine and His Photo Stories: Visual Culture and Social Reform

By Smith-Shank, Deborah L. | Art Education, March 2003 | Go to article overview

Lewis Hine and His Photo Stories: Visual Culture and Social Reform


Smith-Shank, Deborah L., Art Education


De-coding and even coding images are not exclusive activities for artists. Visual culture is complex and multi-layered, and it can manipulate us or liberate us. It is subtle and explicit, intentional and accidental. It is through visual culture that we know who we are as individuals and as communities. Just how powerful it is can be understood by looking at one of the masters of encoding messages in visual culture to see what is possible with the right kinds of technical and intellectual tools. Lewis Hine, a teacher and photographer, used his visual culture skills to change the United States.

A Brief Biography: Lewis Hine (1874-1940)

Lewis Hine's family valued education. His mother had been a teacher before her marriage, and his sister also became a teacher. After his father was killed in an accident when Lewis was 18, he went to work, saved his money, and enrolled in University of Chicago when he was 26 years old, also hoping to be a teacher. John Dewey was on the faculty at that time, and it's likely that Hine encountered Dewey's philosophies.

Hine followed his mentor, Frank A. Manny, from Chicago to the Ethical Culture School in New York City as an assistant teacher of nature study and geography. While teaching there, Hine became interested in the new science of photography and encouraged his students to experiment with the camera as part of their educational experience. Hine's students took their cameras to the streets soon after they learned to use the (then) high-tech photography equipment, including cumbersome tripod-mounted 5x7 inch view cameras with 5x7 inch glass slides, flash-pans, and gun powder.

Hine and his students began visiting Ellis Island and photographing immigrants arriving by the thousands every day. He shows us their clothes, expressions, meager possessions, and sometimes even their homes. Through his photographic images and the words he wrote to accompany the pictures, Hine allows us glimpses into new immigrants' fears and hopes for a good life in the New World. Between 1904 and 1909, he took over 200 plates. It was while working at Ellis Island that he realized his vocation was broader than the life of a classroom teacher, and he left the Ethical Culture School to pursue work as a documentary photographer working for social justice. Hine wrote in a field note, "I was merely changing the educational efforts from the classroom to the world" (Rosenblum et.al., 1977, p. 17).

The Context

The New World was changing rapidly. When Hine was born, The War Between the States was over, and there were no more slaves. But cheap workers were needed in larger and larger numbers for mass production. Millions of immigrants combined with the needs of industrialization provided the largest opportunities for exploitation since slavery.

It quickly became evident that [Hine's] Ellis Island "Madonna," the proud Jew, and the beaming German family were all to become cheap labor, exploited by an unfeeling and greedy system. (Rosenblum et.al., 1977, p. 12)

To keep the mills, mines, factories, and canneries open, owners hired workers, old and young. Whole families worked, and yet, many parents did not earn enough to support them. Many U.S. workers at this time suffered horrible working conditions, and nothing official was being done to prevent it.

As one Fall River mill owner expressed it: "I regard my people just as I regard my machinery. So long as they can do my work for what I choose to pay them, I keep them, getting out of them all I can. When my machines get old and useless, I reject them and get new, and these people are part of my machinery." (Doezema, 1980, p. 36)

Social Reform

In the North especially, the gap between poor and rich, the educated and illiterate, grew with the growth of industry. This un-American, undemocratic, and seemingly hopeless situation led people like John Dewey, Herbert Spencer, and Jane Addams, among others, to respond with righteous anger and new theories in science, education, and philosophy to address issues of social justice. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Lewis Hine and His Photo Stories: Visual Culture and Social Reform
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.