The Story Behind: All Work And No Play!

Photograph by: Lewis Hine/ Image Source:Library Of Congress / Written by: Vedika Singhania

Photograph by: Lewis Hine/ Image Source:Library Of Congress / Written by: Vedika Singhania

The early 1900s saw an increase in child labour, in the coal mining factories in the U.S. Commonly referred to as ‘Breaker Boys’, the young boys, sometimes as young as four, would be employed to segregate coal from slate in the mines. They would spend their days in the hazardous settings, working for a pittance, far away from the schools that the National Child Labour Committee (NCLC) wanted them to be in. Having tried to bring a stop to this practice unsuccessfully, the NCLC brought Lewis Hine on board to bring this issue to light. With a background in Sociology, Hine was always disposed towards social issues and bringing about a change. However, he was under the constant pressure of being discovered, as the factory owners were violently against social reform. Disguised as a bible salesman, postcard salesman, or an industrial photographer to record machinery, Hine would try to gain access inside the mills, factories, mines, fields and canneries, right from north east to the deep south of America. He would then quickly note the child’s age, job description and all the information pertaining to their situation. If he was unable to gain access, he would wait outside the factory and photograph them, as they entered or exited.

Lewis’ photographs on child labour in America showed the stark truth that Charles Dickens had evoked through his novels. This visual documentation forced the government to enforce stringent laws against child labour in the country. The impact of it was immediate and profound. The pictures swayed the public in a way cold statistics had not, and the country enacted laws banning child labour.

This article originally appeared in the August 2017 issue of Better Photography.

Tags: better photography, Story Behind Picture, Vedika Singhania, August 2017, Story Behind Picture 2017, All Work And No Play!, Lewis Hin