Lot 58
  • 58

Lewis W. Hine

70,000 - 100,000 USD
269,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Lewis Wickes Hine
  • 6 3/4  by 4 5/8  in. (17.1 by 11.7 cm.)
titled in pencil and with the photographer's 'Interpretive Photography, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York' studio stamp on the reverse, circa 1921


Howard Daitz, New York, 1975


'Power Makers: Work Portraits by Lewis W. Hine,' The Survey Graphic, 31 December 1921, Volume XLVII, No. 14, p. 511

Karl Steinorth, ed., Lewis Hine: Passionate Journey, Photographs 1905-1937 (Zurich, 1996), cover and p. 159

Kate Sampsell-Willmann, Lewis Hine as Social Critic (University Press of Mississippi, 2009), cover

Daile Kaplan, ed., Photo Story: Selected Letters and Photographs of Lewis W. Hine (Washington, 1992), cover and unpaginated (variant cropping)

'A Camera Interpretation of Labor,' The Mentor, September 1926, Vol. 14, No. 8, p. 46 (variant)

Catalogue Note

In a 1921 letter to Paul Kellogg, editor of The Survey magazine, Lewis Hine described a new series of photographs he had undertaken, photographs that he felt showed ‘the Human Side’ of power plants, and called them the ‘very best thing I have ever done.’  The image offered here, arguably Hine’s pre-eminent industrial portrait, is from that group of pictures.  Kellogg published it, along with others by Hine, in The Survey Graphic of December 1921, marking the image’s first appearance in print.  The headline read, ‘Power Makers: Work Portraits by Lewis W. Hine, Photographs Taken in the Power Plants of the Pennsylvania System.’ 

In the aftermath of World War I, Hine turned his camera on the American worker, producing what he called ‘photo interpretations’ of American labor. Portraying the individual in relation to industry occupied the remainder of his working life.  Using his straightforward social documentary style, Hine elevated the mechanic, the track walker, the riveter, the tire makers, not only for the public, but also for the workers themselves.  In his 1932 volume Men at Work: Photographic Studies of Modern Men and Machines, Hine characterized these legions of workers as ‘men of courage, skill, daring and imagination.’  ‘We call this the Machine Age,’ he continued, ‘but the more machines we use, the more do we need real men to make and direct them.’  When The Mentor magazine published another of Hine’s power plant mechanics in 1926, it warned, ‘Unless the bolts are tight, the machinery will not function; unless machinery functions, industry is paralyzed.  And upon what does the functioning of machinery depend in the last analysis? Upon “men with wrenches” . . .'

Beaumont Newhall met Hine in 1938, when Hine brought a portfolio of his photographs to The Museum of Modern Art.  Newhall sensed that Hine’s work belonged to a new category.  ‘These photographs were taken primarily as records,’ Newhall wrote later in an article about Hine for the Magazine of Art.  ‘They are direct and simple.  The presence in them of an emotional quality raises them to works of art’ (November 1938, p. 636).