Lewis Hine has been acknowledged as one of America’s principal 20th-century photographers, best known for his moving portraits of immigrants on Ellis Island, child laborers in factories and mines, and steel workers balanced on high girders of the Empire State Building.
During World War I, Hine became a photographer for the American Red Cross, assigned to record the devastation in Europe and document the need for relief work. In the spring and summer of 1918, he photographed hundreds of war refugees, orphaned children, hospitalized soldiers, nurses and volunteers, as well as the country’s ruins. The photographs were intended to drum up support for the Red Cross and appeal to an American audience. Some of these pictures appeared in Red Cross publications, but most of them went into the organization’s archives, where they remained hidden for almost 100 years.
At the end of World War II, the Red Cross deposited its photograph collection – some 50,000 images – at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. where Hine’s work was misplaced due to an eccentric filing code that baffled historians for nearly 40 years. Author Daile Kaplan was finally able to break the code, identify Hine’s photographs, and reintroduce to the world the best of this master’s “lost” photographs, giving him his due as a true pioneer of photojournalism.