Sunday, 30 November 2014

Humans as the Heart of Industry - America and LEWIS HINE at Casa dei Tre Oci in Venice

Worker on the Empire State Building (1931) - Photo by Lewis Hine
(Venice, Italy) Lewis Hine (1874-1940) was one of the first American photographers to use his camera to impact society. His revealing photos of children toiling in mills in the early 1900s were instrumental in changing the child labor laws in the United States. He captured the frank expressions of bewildered immigrants arriving on Ellis Island, and the blackened faces of workers in the coal mines. His dramatic images of death-defying workers dancing like acrobats across steel girders during construction of the Empire State Building were awe-inspiring. By using photography to capture the human beings who were the engines of the industrial machine, Lewis Hine was a knight armed with a camera.

Addie Card, 12-year-old spinner (1910) - Photo: Lewis Whine
Nina Rosenblum grew up with the photographs of Lewis Hine, which she used to stick on the wall with a thumb tack because back then nobody thought they were worth anything. The Academy Award-nominated documentary film director is the daughter of the photographer, Walter Rosenblum, and the photographic historian, Naomi Rosenblum. Nina was here in Venice with her husband, Daniel Allentuck, who is the son of Maureen Stapleton. They are partners in life and work, founding Daedalus Productions, a non-profit film and television production company in 1980. On Friday, November 28, 2014, they screened their 1984 family-affair documentary, "America and Lewis Hine," at Casa Dei Tre Oci here in Venice, where Lewis Hine's photos are on show until December 8.

Lewis Hine was an early faculty member of the prestigious Ethical Culture Fieldston School, a private independent school in New York City whose core value is the respect for human dignity, and which has produced such diverse members of society as J. Robert Oppenheimer, Barbara Walters and Jeffrey Katzenberg. In the early 1900s, Hine took his students to Ellis Island and encouraged them to use photography as an educational medium. He documented the masses of immigrants fleeing an impoverished Europe, hoping for a better future in an America that was booming.

Ellis Island (1905) Photo: Lewis Hine
Hines then worked as a staff photographer for the newly-established Russell Sage Foundation, one of America's oldest foundations, whose mission is for the improvement of social and living conditions in the United States. In 1907, Hines documented living conditions in Pittsburgh, which was then the prototype of an industrial city, helping to influence public opinion about the harmful effects industry was having on society and the environment.

Child labor (1908) Photo: Lewis Hine
He next worked for National Child Labor Committee, using different guises to gain entry to mills, mines and factories to document the savage effects the grueling labor was having on America's children. He documented the efforts of the American Red Cross in Europe during and after WWI, and was the official photographer for the construction of the Empire State Building, recording the fearless men who worked at dizzying heights without safety harnesses.

Empire State Building (1931) Photo: Lewis Hine
Walter Rosenblum, Nina's father, who was interviewed during the film, met Lewis Hine when Rosemblum was 17-years-old and Hine was in his 60s. By then, Hine had lost his governmental and corporate contracts, as well as his house. Rosenblum was instrumental in preserving Hine's photos, and followed in his path. Walter Rosenblum recorded the D-Day landing at Normandy in 1944, was the first Allied photographer to enter the liberated Dachau concentration camp, and was a Purple Heart recipient. Through December 19, Rosenblum's photos can be seen in Rome in an exhibition called, "They Fight with Cameras."

By coincidence, I happen to be reading "Waterworks" by E.L. Doctorow, historical fiction set in New York City in 1871. From the back cover:

"In a city where every form of crime and vice flourishes, corruption is king, fabulous wealth stands on the shoulders of unspeakable want, and there are no limits to larceny."

Photo: Lewis Hine (1916)
The film reminded me that the current inequalities and extreme greed the planet is experiencing is nothing new under the sun, and it gave me hope: there are genuine photographers and filmmakers such as Nina Rosenblum and Daniel Allentuck who follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before, recording social conditions in order to bring these issues into the public awareness and effect change. We have made progress since children in the United States were no better than slaves, and miners labored under horrific conditions in the coal mines. Lewis Hine fought with his camera to improve conditions for the working-class human beings that were the heart and soul of the industrial machine, allowing those with disposable income to spend it on Black Friday today.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

1 comment:

  1. By using photography to capture the human beings who were the engines of the industrial machine, Lewis Hine was a knight armed with a camera.