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In Anxious Celebration: Lewis Hine's Men at Work

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 July 2009

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In a letter to the radical periodical, the New Masses, in October of 1930, one reader requested more satire from the artists who published in its pages, art with “greater revolutionary purpose.” The drawings of an artist like Louis Lozowick, Vern Jessup complained, were suspiciously ambiguous: “In the New Masses they're proletarian art. What do you call them when they appear in the bourgeois business magazines, as they do?” Louis Lozowick, a Russian-American avant-garde painter and a contributing editor of the New Masses, rose immediately to the challenge. In a letter of response in the December, 1930 issue, entitled, “What Should Revolutionary Artists Do Now?” he noted that leftist artists and writers go to capitalist publications and galleries with the same regularity (and uncertainty) as workers go to shops and factories — and for the same reasons. One might ask a revolutionary artist to refuse all collaboration with capitalist institutions and starve to death with his revolutionary conscience immaculate. Or one might ask him to contribute to the revolutionary movement with whatever means at his command while conceding the inevitability (as we do in the case of the factory worker) of his working in capitalist institutions.

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1992

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1. Jessup, Vern, “And Now the Artists …,” New Masses 6, no. 5 (10 1930): 22.Google Scholar I would like to thank Alan Trachtenberg, Vernon Shetley, William Cain, Clement Hawes, and Marilyn Halter for sharing ideas and references and/or commenting on earlier versions of this essay.

2. Lozowick, Louis, “What Should Revolutionary Artists Do Now?New Masses 6, no. 7 (12 1930): 21.Google Scholar

3. McCausland, Elizabeth, “Portrait of a Photographer,” Survey Graphic (10 1938): 503.Google Scholar

4. Hine, Lewis W., quoted in Doherty, Jonathan, “Introduction,” in Men at Work: Photographic Studies of Modern Men and Machines, by Hine, Lewis W. (1932; rept. New York: Dover, 1977)Google Scholar, n.p. This edition is described as “an unabridged republication” of the original 1932 edition of the text, published by Macmillan, but there are a few slight, though significant, changes in the Dover reprint. Throughout this article, except where otherwise noted, I refer to the original edition: Hine, Lewis W., Men at Work: Photographic Studies of Modern Men and Machines (New York: Macmillan, 1932).Google Scholar

5. Cruger, George, “Lewis Hine,” Arts in Virginia 16, no. 1 (Fall 1975): 18, 33.Google Scholar

6. Gutman, Judith Mara, Lewis W. Hine and the American Social Conscience (New York: Walker, 1967), p. 38.Google Scholar

7. Jeffrey, Ian, Photography: A Concise History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), p. 161.Google Scholar

8. Seixas, Peter, “Lewis Hine: From ‘Social’ to ‘Interpretive’ Photographer,” American Quarterly 39 (Fall 1987): 396.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

9. See Tashjian, Dickran, “Engineering a New Art,” in Wilson, Richard Guy, Pilgrim, Dianne H., and Tashjian, Dickran, The Machine Age in America 1918–1941 (New York: Harry Abrams, 1986), p. 237.Google Scholar

10. See Lewis Hine's photographs accompanying C. E. Winslow, A.'s “Can Health Be Bought?Survey Graphic 23 (12 1934): 610–13Google Scholar; Springer, Gertrude, “Men Off the Road,” Survey Graphic 23 (09 1934): 420–28, 448Google Scholar; and Hamilton, Alice, M.D., “A Medieval Industry in the Twentieth Century,” Survey (02 1, 1924): 456–64.Google Scholar

11. Hine, Lewis W., “Harbor-Workers,” Survey 47 (02 25, 1922): 851–58Google Scholar; Hine, , “Railroaders,” Survey 47 (10 29, 1921): 159–66Google Scholar; and Hine, , “The Man on the Job,” Survey 47 (03 25, 1922): 991–96.Google Scholar

12. Stange, Maren, Symbols of Ideal Life: Social Documentary Photography in America 1890–1950 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 81.Google Scholar

13. Trachtenberg, Alan, Reading American Photographs: Images as History, Mathew Brady to Walker Evans (New York: Hill and Wang, 1989), pp. 164230.Google Scholar

14. Hine, Lewis W., “Social Photography, How the Camera May Help in the Social Uplift,” Proceedings, National Conference of Charities and Corrections (06 1909)Google Scholar, reprinted in Classic Essays on Photography, ed. Trachtenberg, Alan (New Haven, Conn.: Leete's Island, 1980), pp. 112113.Google Scholar

15. “Treating Labor Artistically,” Literary Digest 67 (12 1920): 32.Google Scholar

16. Hine, Lewis W., “Tasks in the Tenements,” Child Labor Bulletin 3 (19141915): 95.Google Scholar

17. “He Photo-Interprets Big Labor: Camera Studies of Men at Work by Lewis W. Hine,” The Mentor (09 1926): 4243.Google Scholar

18. “He Photo-Interprets,” p. 42.Google Scholar

19. Trautman, William E., “Over a Volcano,” The International Socialist Review (09 1912): 217–20.Google Scholar Alan Trachtenberg notes that Hine's photographs appear in this article in “Ever - the Human Document,” in America and Lewis Hine, foreword by Rosenblum, Walter (New York: Aperture, 1977), p. 127.Google Scholar

20. For a discussion of socialist realism, see Tashjian, , “Engineering a New Art,” pp. 235–37.Google Scholar

21. Burke, Kenneth, “Revolutionary Symbolism in America,”Google Scholar appended to The Legacy of Kenneth Burke, ed. Simons, Herbert W. and Melia, Trevor (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), p. 272.Google Scholar Burke's speech certainly was not received with enthusiasm, but this was because of his suggestion that the sacrosanct symbol of “the worker” be changed to that of “the people,” not because of his general emphasis on creating what he termed positive “propaganda.” For a discussion of the controversy, see Lentricchia, Frank, Criticism and Social Change (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), pp. 2138.Google Scholar

22. Wilson, Richard, “America and the Machine Age,”Google Scholar in Wilson, et al. , Machine Age, p. 38.Google Scholar

23. Lozowick, Louis, “Art in the Service of the Proletariat,” Literature of the World Revolution 4 (1931): 127.Google Scholar

24. Lozowick, , “Art in the Service,” p. 127.Google Scholar

25. “An Honest Man's Camera,” Survey Graphic 68 (10 1, 1932): 485.Google Scholar

26. Hine, , “Social Photography,” p. 111.Google Scholar

27. Stieglitz, Alfred, quoted in Norman, Dorothy, Alfred Stieglitz: An American Seer (New York: Random House, 1973), p. 80.Google Scholar

28. Alan Trachtenberg notes that in Hine's late work portraits he struggled in vain to use his camera to counter Taylorism (see Trachtenberg, , “Ever - the Human Document,” p. 134).Google Scholar

29. Braverman, Harry, Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century (New York: Monthly Review, 1974), pp. 113–20.Google Scholar

30. Soule, George, Economic Forces in American History (New York: Sloane, 1952), p. 241.Google Scholar

31. Zinn, Howard, A People's History of the United States (New York: Harper, 1980), p. 378.Google Scholar

32. Hine, , “Tasks in the Tenements,” p. 95.Google Scholar

33. Jonathan Doherty has edited a posthumous collection of Hine's photographs of women, entitled Women at Work (New York: Dover, 1981).Google Scholar It is handy to have these photographs in an accessible collection. But Hine himself never had plans for such a book and, as I argue, it seems at odds with the Utopian vision of Men at Work.

34. Posing this scenario as Utopian is problematic for women. On the one hand, women industrial workers in this era were particularly exploited, earning only about half the wages received by their male counterparts (as the Pittsburgh Survey, to which Hine contributed, had pointed out), and married women were understandably disinclined to take jobs in industry. But the concept of the family wage, Roslyn Feldberg writes, “institutionalized men's domination in the labor market and the family, treated as unfortunate aberrations those households that lacked access to men's wages, and set the stage for the impoverishment of women, and especially women with children, who were without the wages of a man” (Feldberg, Roslyn L., “Comparable Worth: Toward Theory and Practice in the United States,” Signs 10, no. 21 [Winter 1984]: 315–16).CrossRefGoogle Scholar We should note as well that Hine's Utopian vision, as presented in Men at Work, is marked by another significant exclusion: none of the black workers whom Hine photographed at various times are included in this book. The Utopian vision of American labor presented in Men at Work is one in which the white proletariat alone stands as the “apotheosis of labor.”

35. Montgomery, David, Workers' Control in America: Studies in the History of Work, Technology, and Labor Struggles (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979), pp. 1314.Google Scholar

36. Alfred Stieglitz, quoted in Norman, , Alfred Stieglitz, p. 80.Google Scholar

37. See Finishing up the Job (photograph number 2), Railroad Men (1), Making Machines (1), and Special Skills (1). Peter Seixas notes the recurrence of this pattern in Hine's late photography. He sees it as a metaphor of the importance of the worker, but argues that because it is externally imposed and metaphorical it is meaningless: “it does not come from a real engagement of the worker functioning with the machine, and so cannot illuminate their relationship” (p. 397).Google Scholar Unlike Seixas, I see all photography as necessarily imbued with metaphor, and I see an understanding of Hine's metaphors as crucial to an understanding of his work and of his vision of the relation between the worker and his labor.

38. Locomotive Firemen's Magazine, quoted in Zinn, , People's History, p. 272.Google Scholar

39. Taylor, Frederick Winslow, The Principles of Scientific Management (1911; rept. New York: Norton, 1967), p. 46.Google Scholar

40. Braverman, , Labor and Monopoly Capital, p. 108n.Google Scholar

41. Burke, , “Revolutionary Symbolism,” p. 271.Google Scholar

42. Salvatore, Nick, Eugene V. Debs: Citizen and Socialist (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1982), pp. 183, 186.Google Scholar

43. Debs, Eugene V., “The Mission of Socialism is as Wide as the World,” Social Democratic Herald (07 13, 1901)Google Scholar, quoted in Salvatore, , Eugene V. Debs, p. 192.Google Scholar

44. See Bercovitch, Sacvan, The American Jeremiad (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1978), p. 8.Google Scholar

45. Whitman, Walt, “Song of Myself,” in Leaves of Grass, ed. Bradley, Sculley and Blodgett, Harold W. (New York: Norton, 1973), pp. 8384Google Scholar (sec. 46, 11. 1206–22), original italics.

46. Kellogg, Paul, “Field Work of the Pittsburgh Survey,” in The Pittsburgh District (New York, 1914), p. 493Google Scholar, quoted in Trachtenberg, , Reading American Photographs, p. 493.Google Scholar

47. Elizabeth, McCausland Papers (02 17, 1933)Google Scholar, quoted in Trachtenberg, , “Ever — the Human Document,” p. 120.Google Scholar

48. London, Jack, The Iron Heel (1908; rept. New York: Grayson, 1948), p. 134.Google Scholar

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