Lewis Hine’s photographs of child laborers are often cited as examples of photographs that swayed public opinion or inspired legislation. How did Hine come to work for the National Child Labor Committee, and what impact did his photographs have?
Lewis Hine became part of a group of progressive reformers in New York when he moved there from Wisconsin in 1901. This circle was trying to bring about change in a number of ways, including lobbying the government, conducting sociological studies, and providing support for people in need.It soon became clear that photography was a good way to document and illustrate things that were happening—things that were hidden and things that were quite visible. I find it fascinating that, even though people were suspicious of cameras, at times Hine was sneaking into factories with his large camera equipment or befriending people who could get him in. He traveled about 50,000 miles across the country taking pictures of factories, their equipment, and the child workers. He asked the kids working there, some as young as 6 years old, to pose with the machines. He also kept extensive notes on what he was seeing. Hine also photographed newsboys, who were selling newspapers on street corners in major cities: tiny boys working out in the cold as people passed by them. His photos helped remind or show people that these child laborers were out there, and everywhere.