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Photographic historian Judith Mara Gutman and acclaimed historian Sean Wilentz explore the work produced for the WPA by pioneering social photographer Lewis Hine, chronicled in the new book Lewis Hine: When Innovation Was King.
In 1936, science-teacher-turned-photographer Lewis Hine was commissioned by the National Research Project, a division of the Works Progress Administration, to produce a visual document of the industries that the U.S. government hoped would provide the jobs that would 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. With their emphasis on the inherent tension between machinery and workers, the images are particularly relevant today, given the radical shifts in workers' roles in an ever-automating world and a shifting global economy.
Lewis Hine began his career as a teacher at the Ethical Culture School in New York City and first used a camera to record activities at the school. Subsequently he photographed immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, the shocking condition of child laborers throughout the U.S., the activities of the American Red Cross in World War I, and the construction of the Empire State building. NYPL's collection of his work numbers in the hundreds and dates back to prints purchased from Hine himself in the early 1930s. Gutman worked on the book while a researcher-in-residence at the Library.