Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ten Year Old Spinner, North Carolina Cotton Mill

Artist: Lewis Hine
Title: Ten Year Old Spinner, North Carolina Cotton Mill
Medium: Silver Gelatin Print
Date: 1908-09
Nationality: American
Born: 1874
Died: 1940

The photographs shot by American Photographer Lewis Hine (1874-1940) were pivotal in reforming labor laws in the United States for both adults and children. This photo of the ten year-old spinner girl focuses on the great contribution he made to exposing the ugly truth about child labor during the industrial revolution which was a time when the numbers of child laborers in the U.S. was astronomical. Industrialization moved workers from rural communities into urban areas to do factory work. Children were the perfect employees. They were cheap labor, they had no rights, no voice, and were highly unlikely to strike. American children worked dangerous jobs in mines, glass factories, textiles, agriculture, canneries, cotton mills, and as newsboys, messengers, peddlers, and much more. Children were exploited and placed in dangerous and often fatal conditions. Beginning work at ages as low as three years old, the children earned only 10 to 20% of an adults wage and worked sixteen hour days! Not only were children being robbed of their childhoods, but this was a serious violation of human rights! Lewis Hine used his camera to create social reform for adults and children alike.

It is my belief that Lewis Hine's photographs saved the lives of countless individuals. So maybe his job was photojournalism and he got paid to take these photographs. However, the import thing about his work is that they became sociological studies of not only the working class during the industrial revolution, but the truly poor souls who were suffering from inhumane working conditions. His photographs provided a voice for those who had none. I know it's cliché to say “a picture is worth a thousand words,” so I won't say it; but looking at such a powerful, poignant image makes such a loud, resounding statement. And you know that at the time the picture was published the content, the evidence of a truth, was even more earth-shattering. The imagery of this somber, hardened factory worker is not indicative of a child. It's indicative of a ten year-old girl of whom the joy and spark of childhood has been snuffed by countless hours of structured, taxing labor. Lewis Hine is a perfect example of how a photographer can become a paladin. Images as powerful as Hine's help change the world. 

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