Striking photography exhibit at Oklahoma History Center features child laborers from the state's past 

click to enlarge “Callie Campbell, 11 years old, picks 75 to 125 pounds of cotton a day, and totes 50 pounds of it when sack gets full. ‘No, I don't like it very much,’” photographer Lewis Hine wrote in his notebook. Photo taken Oct. 16, 1916, in Pottawatomie County. | Photo Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington D.C. / provided - LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
  • Library of Congress
  • “Callie Campbell, 11 years old, picks 75 to 125 pounds of cotton a day, and totes 50 pounds of it when sack gets full. ‘No, I don't like it very much,’” photographer Lewis Hine wrote in his notebook. Photo taken Oct. 16, 1916, in Pottawatomie County. | Photo Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington D.C. / provided

Currently on view at Oklahoma History Center, Child Labor in Oklahoma: The Photographs of Lewis Hine, 1916–1917, showcases the pioneering work of sociologist and photographer Lewis Hine. The exhibit, co-curated by Lori Oden and Jim Meeks of the center and Theresa Bragg, an adjunct professor of photography at St. Gregory’s University and Oklahoma City Community College (OCCC), brings together visually striking and thought-provoking images that provide valuable insights into the realities of life and work in early 20th-century Oklahoma.

The decision to build an exhibit around Hine’s Oklahoma photographs arose after Meeks came across one of Hine’s images while curating a 2015 exhibit of Farm Security Administration photos for the history center.

Shot in 1917, the image of an 11-year-old Oklahoma City bakery worker led Meeks to investigate Hine’s time in the state.

“There were just a ton of photos,” Meeks said. “I started looking through them, and it was like a flood of information.”

He reconnected with former OCCC colleague Bragg when she brought a group of photography students to see the FSA exhibit.

“She’s a huge Hine fanatic,” Meeks said.

With Oden, Oklahoma History Center’s director of exhibits, Meeks and Bragg selected 25 of Hine’s works to display alongside a selection of cameras and other period objects drawn from Oklahoma History Center’s own collection.

For its curators, the exhibit represents a valuable opportunity to educate viewers about Hine’s work and the fragments of local history his images reveal.

“Most people had no idea that Lewis Hine was here in Oklahoma, and it’s actually been really interesting to look back 100 years … to see where he was and what he was looking at,” Bragg said. “For the most part, these [images] have not been widely published.”

click to enlarge Oklahoma City, Oklahoma - Lewis W. Hine - April, 1917 - Notebook Entry: Blind man and his youthful guide. - Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington D.C. - LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
  • Library of Congress
  • Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Lewis W. Hine April, 1917 Notebook Entry: Blind man and his youthful guide. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington D.C.

Lewis Hine

Born in Wisconsin in 1874, Hine worked as a photographer for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC) from 1908 until the beginning of World War I. Traveling throughout the United States, he used his camera as a tool for social change, documenting the conditions of child workers in support of efforts to reform local and national labor laws.

In 1916 and 1917, Hine visited Oklahoma communities, including Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Lawton, Shawnee, Okmulgee and Sulphur.

While there, he produced portraits of school-aged children employed as cotton pickers, newsboys, factory workers, bakers and bicycle messengers.

Hine’s work as a photographer and social justice advocate proved instrumental in raising public awareness of child labor and other social problems, but he often struggled to find financial and institutional support for his projects.

He died in poverty and obscurity in 1940, leaving behind an artistic and political legacy that would be rediscovered and brought to light by subsequent generations of scholars and historians.

click to enlarge Oklahoma City, Oklahoma - Lewis W. Hine - March, 1917 - Notebook Entry: Hymie Miller, 5-year-old newsie who lives at 922 W. California St. Sells after school mostly. - Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington D.C. - LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
  • Library of Congress
  • Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Lewis W. Hine March, 1917 Notebook Entry: Hymie Miller, 5-year-old newsie who lives at 922 W. California St. Sells after school mostly. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington D.C.

Powerful images

Exploring Hine’s body of work, Bragg, Meeks and Oden were struck not just by the powerful subject matter but also by the aesthetic qualities of the photographs themselves.

Hine cultivated relationships with each of the children he shot, gaining their trust and learning about their lives.

The bond between artist and subject can be felt in the direct, confident gazes of the youths.

“I think that’s what’s so powerful about some of the images that have become iconic,” Oden said. “They’re just looking right into your soul to communicate with you about what’s going on.”

Meeks highlighted Hine’s consistent use of shallow depth of field, a technique that allows individuals in the foreground to stand out in sharp relief against a soft-focused background.

By framing his young subjects in this way, Hine emphasized that the children — even more than the social and economic conditions that shaped their lives — were the true focus of his art.

In addition to showcasing the strength and diversity of Hine’s work, Child Labor in Oklahoma: The Photographs of Lewis Hine, 1916–1917, draws instructive parallels between past and present.

“A lot of the issues during Lewis Hine’s time are still issues now: immigration, worker’s rights, children’s rights,” Bragg said. “I personally think it’s a perfect match, and I’m thrilled with what we’ve picked out.”

The exhibit is on display through March in Chesapeake Events Center at Oklahoma History Center, 800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive. Admission is included with regular history center admission, which is free-$7 for individuals and $18 for a family of up to six people. Organizers suggest guests call ahead to make sure the events center is open to the public before they visit.

Visit okhistory.org.

click to enlarge Lawton, Oklahoma - Lewis W. Hine - April, 1917 - Notebook Entry: Sarah Crutcher, 12-year-old girl herding cattle. Route 4, c/o S.O. Crutcher. She was out of school (#49 Comanche County) only 2 weeks this year and that was to herd 100 head of cattle for her father, a prosperous farmer. She said: "I didn't like it either." She is doing well in school. Is in Grade 8. - Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington D.C. - LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
  • Library of Congress
  • Lawton, Oklahoma Lewis W. Hine April, 1917 Notebook Entry: Sarah Crutcher, 12-year-old girl herding cattle. Route 4, c/o S.O. Crutcher. She was out of school (#49 Comanche County) only 2 weeks this year and that was to herd 100 head of cattle for her father, a prosperous farmer. She said: "I didn't like it either." She is doing well in school. Is in Grade 8. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington D.C.

Print headline: Photographic memory, Child Labor in Oklahoma: The Photographs of Lewis Hine, 1916-1917 thought-provokingly documents life and work of early 20th century youth.

Pin It
Favorite

Speaking of...

About The Author

Lisa K. Broad

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Dark City @ Tower Theatre

The Last Waltz @ Rodeo Cinema

View all of today's events »

OKG Social

OKG Media Feed

© 2018 Oklahoma Gazette / Tierra Media Inc. All rights reserved.
REPRODUCTION OF CONTENT IN ANY MANNER WITHOUT PERMISSION IS PROHIBITED.
TO OBTAIN PERMISSION, CONTACT US

Powered by Foundation