Celebrating Labor Day: The Photographs of Lewis Wickes Hine

Photography can light-up darkness
and expose ignorance
Lewis Wickes Hine

As Labor Day marks the end of Summer it also honors American workers and their achievements. It became a federal holiday in 1894 at a time when the Industrial Revolution had caused the American workforce to leave farms to toil in factories, canneries, textile mills and mines. Children along with adults worked twelve hour days and seven day weeks in what were often unsafe conditions that lacked fresh air and sanitation. Out of necessity labor unions organized strikes and rallies resulting in sometime violent conflicts between workers and police. From this turmoil came the peaceful tradition of Labor Day celebrated with parades, parties and sports events. From labor unions to photojournalism, the camera captured American workers and helped improve their conditions. Wisconsin born photographer and sociologist Lewis Wickes Hine (1874-1940) gave us images of poverty, child labor, and workers on the job. Early in his career he documented immigrants coming through Ellis Island with the same dignity as a painter depicting the Mayflower pilgrims. These immigrants entered the work force that Wickes would passionately photograph.