The WPA National Research Project Photographs, 1936–37
Published by Steidl/Howard Greenberg Library. Text by Judith Mara Gutman.
In 1936, science teacher turned photographer Lewis Hine was commissioned by the National Research Project, a division of the Works Project Administration, to produce a visual document of the industries that the US government hoped would provide the jobs to lift the country out of the Great Depression. Hine, already well established as a chronicler of social conditions of his day, produced more than 700 photographs for this project, the last major work of his career.
By emphasizing the inherent tension between machinery and workers, Hine imbued these compelling images with his characteristic rigor and aesthetic appeal. These photographs, and their implied message, are particularly relevant today given high unemployment rates and radical shifts in the role of the worker in the rapidly changing world economy. Included in this book is an essay by the eminent photographic historian Judith Mara Gutman, in which she discusses the project and the photographs in the context of the economic conditions of the time and the artistic and technological innovations of the era.
Lewis Hine (1874–1940) was trained as a sociologist and educator in Chicago and New York. In 1904 he photographed newly arrived immigrants on Ellis Island with his students from the Ethical Culture School in New York. Declaring that he “wanted to show things that had to be corrected,” he was one of the earliest photographers to use the photograph as a tool for social change. During and after World War I, Hine photographed the relief work of the American Red Cross in France and the Balkans, and in 1930 was commissioned to document the construction of the Empire State Building.
Published by D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers. Text by Alison Nordström, Elizabeth McCausland.
In 1905, a young sociologist named Lewis Hine Wickes decided to pursue photography as the medium with which to denounce injustice and poverty. Hine was one of the first photographers to document the wave of mass immigration from an impoverished Europe to an economically booming America, and his portraits of immigrants at Ellis Island offered a more positive image of this influx. Later, while working with the National Child Labor Committee, Hine compiled a vast corpus of images that showed how American industry was making use of child labor, helping to bring about changes in U.S. child labor law. But as he wearied of photographing poverty, Hine developed an idealized vision of the worker that emphasized the dignity of labor--a vision that culminated in his legendary Men at Work series, first published in 1932 and today a classic American photobook. "We call this the Machine Age," he wrote in its introduction, "But the more machines we use, the more do we need real men to make and direct them." This beautifully produced volume, which includes a complete facsimile of Men at Work, is compiled from the collection of the George Eastman House, to whom Hine's son bequeathed his archive after his death. It includes both well-known series and recently discovered early works, plus rare family photographs, ephemera and a detailed chronology. The works are arranged in thematic groupings: "Ellis Island," "Tenements," "Child Labor," "Chicago and New York," "Pittsburgh," "Europe," "Black America," "Empire State Building" and "New Deal." Lewis Hine (1874-1940) was born in Wisconsin and studied sociology at the University of Chicago. He served as official photographer for the WPA and for the construction of the Empire State Building. His later years were filled with professional struggles due to loss of patronage.