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  • Tom Marshall

Hidden Children: American Child Labour in Colour

"There is work that profits children, and there is work that brings profit only to employers.  The object of employing children is not to train them, but to get high profits from their work" - Lewis Wickes Hine (1874-1940)

Lewis Wickes Hine was an American sociologist and photographer, whose work was instrumental in changing child labour laws in the United States.

Hine is my favourite photographer.  Aside from being technically excellent, his black and white photographs are some of the most important ever taken.  His record of the first half of the 20th century is a unique glimpse into the real lives of working class America, and his work for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC) was instrumental in bringing about change for the nation's children.

This photo show garment workers Katrina De Cato (6), Franco Brezoo (11) Maria Attreo (12) and her sister Mattie Attreo (5) at 4pm, 26th January 1910 in New York City.

Hine's work was not without risk.  The immorality of child labour was hidden away from the wider public at the time, and his exposure of the underhand practices posed a threat to the industry.  He was threatened with violence and death from factory foremen, and would resort to wearing disguises such as a fire inspector or industrial photographer (making a record of factory machinery) in order to gain access to the workshops.

Roland, an 11 year old newsboy from Newark, New Jersey.

As a photo colouriser, my aim is always to try and connect with the photo subjects on another level, something not always possible with a black and white photo.  Hine's photos are perfect for this purpose as they are already very engaging pieces. 

The eyes of the children are often the first thing we notice, and his photos are so crisp and focused that I believe the addition of colour really helps to bring them to life.

As always in the digital age it is easy to scroll past black and white photos without giving them a second glance, so I hope people will stop to look at these photos and learn more about the children pictured.

5 year old Preston, a young cartoner in Eastport, Maine, 17th August 1911.  Hine said of Preston; "I saw him at work different times during the day, at 7 A.M, in the afternoon, and at 6 P.M., and he kept at it very faithfully for so young a worker"

Raymond Klose (middle), newsboy, 13 years old, St. Louis, Missouri US, 1910.

The photograph was taken by Hine at 11am, Mon May 9th 1910. Original caption read "Newsies at Skeeter’s Branch, Jefferson near Franklin. They were all smoking"

One of the underprivileged, Hull House, Chicago 1910.

Jennie Camillo, an 8 year old cranberry picker, Pemberton, New Jersey, 1910. 

9 year old Johnnie and the shucking-boss, in Dunbar, Louisiana, March 1911.  Shucking is the process of removing shells from shellfish. 

The original caption states that the shucking boss pictured was also a 'padrone', an employer who exploits immigrant workers. The caption continues that for four years he has brought these people from Baltimore.

12 year old newsboy Hyman Alpert, who had been selling newspapers for 3 years when this photo was taken in March 1909, in New Haven, Connecticut.

Michael McNelis, age 8, a newsboy. This boy had just recovered from his second attack of pneumonia and was found selling papers in a big rain storm.  The photo was taken by Lewis Wickes Hine in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in June 1910.  The man taking the boy's details is likely Hine's assistant.

This final photo was taken a few years later, in 1924.  I decided to include it to show a different view of childhood, hopefully depicting a better outcome and improved conditions for America's children at the time. 

When researching the background to these photos my eyes were opened to the current problem of child labour around the world. It's never really gone away from the time these photos were taken. Child labour is still an ugly truth across the world in 2018. I hope this article helps in some small part get people talking about it.

I was inspired to colourise these photos following an article published in Time magazine, by my friend and fellow colouriser Sanna Dullaway.  You can read her article here.

All original images © Lewis Wickes Hine courtesy of the US Library of Congress.

Colourised images © Tom Marshall (PhotograFix) 2018

Tom Marshall is a British photo colouriser.  Please visit my pages on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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