21
Aug
13

Exhibition: ‘Lewis Hine – Photography for a Change’ at Fotomuseum Winterthur, Zurich

Exhibition dates: 8th June – 25th August 2013

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“While human truth may be ephemeral qualities like justice are not; the struggle is to define justice and to live it. And for artists to display it.”

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Here is one artist who certainly used photography for social good. Hine “represents the beginning of a long tradition of politically engaged, social documentary photography, so called “concerned photography”… He firmly believed that every person, every individual, was worthy of respect, and he believed photography to be the best tool for clearly and visibly expressing this view.” Bravo to him.

Unfortunately, like so many of these visionary and revolutionary artists, Hine died in 1940, completely impoverished. As a society, why is it that we don’t value these brave human beings until years after they have passed? Is it because of petty jealousies, the rush of life, people in positions of power too long or a lack of understanding of the visionary nature of their work? Or is it just that time passes them by. I would like to pose this question.

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Many thankx to Fotomuseum Winterthur for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Lewis Hine. 'Midnight at the Brooklyn Bridge' 1906

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Lewis Hine
Midnight at the Brooklyn Bridge
1906
Gelatin silver print
12 x 17 cm
© Collection of George Eastman House, Rochester

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Lewis Hine. 'Spinner in New England mill' 1913

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Lewis Hine
Spinner in New England mill
1913
Gelatin silver print
12.6 x 10.1 cm
© Collection of George Eastman House, Rochester

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Lewis Hine. 'Italian family looking for lost baggage, Ellis Island' 1905

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Lewis Hine
Italian family looking for lost baggage, Ellis Island
1905
Gelatin silver print
33.4 x 27.2 cm
© Collection of George Eastman House, Rochester

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Lewis Hine. 'Candy worker, New York' c. 1925

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Lewis Hine
Candy worker, New York
c. 1925
Gelatin silver print
17.2 x 11.8 cm
© Collection of George Eastman House, Rochester

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“To what extent can images effectively combat injustice and social inequity? The American photographer Lewis Hine (1874-1940) offered an early answer to this question through his work. Trained as a teacher and sociologist, he ardently wished that Americans would become conscious of the injustice of American labor laws. He also firmly believed that every person, every individual, was worthy of respect, and he believed photography to be the best tool for clearly and visibly expressing this view.

His work represents the beginning of a long tradition of politically engaged, social documentary photography, so called “concerned photography.” His photographs of immigrants from Ellis Island, child labor in American factories, and the construction of the Empire State Building high above Manhattan have become major icons of the 20th century. Simultaneously, the photographs also point to the fact, that the documented problems have not lost their currency, even one hundred years later. Today, even in Europe, we are experiencing intensive migrations, which will continue to increase in the future. Here we are not confronted with child labor, because we have transferred the kinds of industrial production that used child labor to distant countries. Accidents in non-European factories indicate the risky conditions under which our consumer goods are still produced today. Hine’s photographic eye and his black and white images form a trajectory that leads directly to the present.

Lewis Hine grew up in a family that owned a simple restaurant in the small town of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. He lost his father at age 18 due to an accident. He provided for himself and his family first as a factory worker in a furniture production company and then as a doorman, salesman, and bookkeeper. After training as a teacher and studying sociology at the University of Chicago, Hine moved to New York, where he first came in contact with photography while teaching at the Ethical Culture School. Using the camera in his lessons, he made portraits of immigrants on Ellis Island in conjunction with a research project. From then on Hine viewed his camera as a weapon for revealing social injustice and effecting change through the power of images. With this motivation he traveled some 75,000 km through the United States for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC) and photographed children at work in the fields, mines, factories, mills, and on the streets. His photographs played no small part in raising awareness for child labor and instigating initial reforms. They also represented some of the earliest and most significant contributions to the social documentary genre of photography. During the construction of the Empire State Building Hine was commissioned with documenting the phases of construction over the course of six months in 1930/31. In over one thousand photographs he recorded the perspective of the construction workers and their hard work on the ultimately 381 m high building. Despite his early success and the use of his images by many governmental agencies, Hine died in 1940, completely impoverished, after an operation.

Fotomuseum Winterthur presents this comprehensive retrospective including 170 images and extensive documentation material in cooperation with the Fundación MAPFRE (Madrid), the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson (Paris) and the Nederlands Fotomuseum (Rotterdam). All works come from the George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester, USA.”

Press release from the Fotomuseum Winterthur website

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Lewis Hine. 'Paris gamin' c. 1918

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Lewis Hine
Paris gamin
c. 1918
Gelatin silver print
24.4 x 19.4 cm
© Collection of George Eastman House, Rochester

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Lewis Hine. 'Jewess at Ellis Island' 1905

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Lewis Hine
Jewess at Ellis Island
1905
Gelatin silver print
24.1 x 19.1 cm
© Collection of George Eastman House, Rochester

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Lewis Hine. 'Mechanic at steam pump in electric power house' 1920

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Lewis Hine
Mechanic at steam pump in electric power house
1920
Gelatin silver print
16.9 x 11.7 cm
© Collection of George Eastman House, Rochester

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Lewis Hine. '[Man on girders, Empire State Building]' c. 1931

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Lewis Hine
[Man on girders, Empire State Building]
c. 1931
Gelatin silver print
12 x 9.2 cm
© Collection of George Eastman House, Rochester

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Lewis Hine. '[Steelworker touching the tip of the Chrysler Building]' c. 1931

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Lewis Hine
[Steelworker touching the tip of the Chrysler Building]
c. 1931
Gelatin silver print
16.9 x 11.9 cm
© Collection of George Eastman House, Rochester

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Lewis Hine. 'Icarus atop Empire State Building' 1931

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Lewis Hine
Icarus atop Empire State Building
1931
Gelatin silver print
9.3 x 10 cm
© Collection of George Eastman House, Rochester

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Fotomuseum Winterthur
Grüzenstrasse 44 + 45
CH-8400
Winterthur (Zürich)

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday 11 am – 6 pm
Wednesday 11 am – 8 pm
Closed on Mondays

Fotomuseum Winterthur website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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