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Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Lewis W. Hine: Child Scavengers


Street kids, Boston, Massachusetts, October 1909

Boys of the Dumps, South Boston, Massachusetts, October 1909

Patching up a meal, Boston slums, Boston, Massachusetts, October 1909

Tony on his way home from the market bringing chicken heads and feet to sell to the soap man, Boston, Massachusetts, October 1909

Garbage gleaners among ash barrels, Boston, Massachusetts, October 1909

"Gimme a smoke" -- street boys, Boston, Massachusetts, October 1909

Swiping behind the cop's back, Boston. Massachusetts, October 1909

Picking over ash barrels, Boston, Massachusetts, October 1909

Boy woodpicker loading, Boston, Massachusetts, October 1909

Mister, give me a lift? Boston, Massachusetts, October 1909

Boy woodpickers under way, Boston, Massachusetts, October 1909

Little girl woodpickers making up a load, Boston, Massachusetts, October 1909

Bringing home the wood, Boston, Massachusetts, October 1909

Boy woodpicker resting, Boston, Massachusetts, October 1909

Carrying home decayed refuse from markets, Boston, Massachusetts, October 1909

Boys picking over garbage on "the Dumps", Boston, Massachusetts, October 1909

Boys and girls working on "the Dumps", Boston, Massachusetts, October 1909

Scavenger toting wood, Fall River, Massachusetts, 21 June 1916

Toting wood, Fall River, Massachusetts, 16 June 1916

Scavengers, Fall River, Massachusetts, 16 June 1916

On the Pleasant Street Dump, Fall River, Massachusetts, 21 June 1916

Boy collecting discarded newspapers to sell to store-keepers, Union Square, New York City, July 1910

Pine Street Dump scavengers, Fall River, Massachusetts, 22 June 1916

Scavenger, Chicopee Falls. Massachusetts, 29 June 1916

Junk gatherers, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, April 1917

Photos by Lewis Wickes Hine (1874-1940) from National Child Labor Committee Collection, Library of Congress


TC said...

For more of the work of this great American photographer, see:

Lewis W. Hine: An Enforced Rest

Lewis W. Hine: Child Labor, Kentucky, 1916

Lewis W. Hine: Cotton ("She jess works fer pleasure")

Lewis W. Hine: Day's Work of the Humphrey Children, Elizabethtown, Kentucky

Lewis W. Hine: Exposure ("get father a watch")

Lewis W. Hine: Junk Gatherers (Just Kids)

Lewis W. Hine: Truant Newsboys, Oklahoma City ("didn't know his name")

Nin Andrews said...

Amazing pictures!

My daughter worked with street boys in Ecuador for a summer. I don't know how successful the program was, but they taught her a lot.

TC said...


We've all still got a lot to learn, and what with the cynicism (realism?) of the moment, it's hard at times to stay open to things. But Lewis Hine's street kids show a lot of pluck, and they remind me that that was once an element in the national character. Sometimes that's hard to remember, amid a "political climate" like that of the present, when there appear to be a fair share of alleged adults who would hand over the controls of government to the likes of that billionaire who last year gave the Mormon church more money than he gave the government in taxes, or, yegads! the angry Stay Puft Marshmallow Man!

Lewis Hine was a sociologist and a teacher who started out with photojournalism as a teaching tool. He gave this country a lot, his work was instrumental in getting child labor laws passed, and later on he did great work for the WPA. I think of his photographs as a kind of epic novel; he was the Dickens our literature never produced. And he came to such a sad end, couldn't get funding for his work from the corporations or, finally, the government; became destitute, lost his home and went on welfare before he died, almost forgotten. The Museum of Modern Art actually turned down the offered donation of his prints (the bulk of which finally ended up instead at the George Eastman House).

As I say, he thought of art as a teaching tool, and I suppose that's not the modern (or post- or post- post-post modern) way. But I still learn a lot from it every time I return, which is often. But then, I am... old.



What great photos -- pull on the heartstrings. Lewis Hine's work quite different from Vachon's, Delano's and all, don't you think?


light coming into sky above still black
ridge, song sparrow calling from branch
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

use of such “being and word,”
relative which itself

is such a note, human world
hemmed in, shaded and

silver line of sun reflected in channel,
shadowed green slope of ridge across it

kent said...

Old? Who you callin' Tom Clark old!

This grandfather (named "Old Dad" by the young ones that count) plans on stickin' around for a long while and that had better include the instructional guidance of MY favorite American poet.

Besides, like Detroit, someday too your Prince will come.

gamefaced said...

scavenging is oddly fulfilling chore. i see a few smiles there.

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

You're right about these kids and their pluck and about it rapidly fading--and not just from the American national character--we can see the same signs over here--here, where some sixty plus years ago kids like these were stealing from the Germans to escape starving to death.

aditya said...

The game of treasure hunt w/o a map & where anything is a treasure. And the treasure that was & is Lewis W. Hine's work lost & then found in Tom's poetics.

(MY fav poet too)

child scavengers sneak
into a factory dump
spring begins

TC said...

I see a lot of this kind of trash diving (recycling it is, after all), these nights, but not being undertaken with quite so much pluck, nor with any smiles at all, and not being done by little children but by fully-grown, desperate American adults.

Steve, interesting this --"...pull on the heartstrings. Lewis Hine's work quite different from Vachon's, Delano's and all, don't you think?" -- certainly Hine does not exercise the kind of cool ironic distancing we see, for example, in John Vachon; but then again, here, the use of scale, framing the very small child subjects in larger spaces that dwarf and threaten them, does provide another kind of distancing effect.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Brilliant work with one or two positively beatific smiles. The film poster in the last struck me and so I looked it up and found Mr Hine was adding still another dimension to his photo. Here's the plot summary from, of all places, MTV's website:

"The Crab is sourpuss Frank Keenan, who lives alone and likes it. At least, he thinks he likes it, until cherubic little orphan Thelma Salter enters his life. Slowly but very surely, curly-headed Salter softens Keenan's hard heart. This old-fashioned yarn was done up brown by the florid subtitles of scenarist... C. Gardner Sullivan. Thelma Salter managed to enjoy a ten-year career in Shirley Temple-style roles; either she was very short or a victim of arrested development."
~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

TC said...


Little Thelma is hard to spot in this 1914 silent classic -- in which she (and everyone else) is upstaged by the camera-hogging tramp with the cane and crumpled stovepipe hat.

... but if you scroll down this page you can glimpse a thumbnail portrait of Thelma in Triangle Kiddies (1915).

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Little urchins digging through the vast crumbs of industry: neatly sawn planks, lots of dusty paper, small bits of wire or folded metal. Bottles? Cans? Not really seen. I think
I see my mother
and my grandmother
when they were young
and younger. I see
their hair and their clothing
nests for dust, a dusty past.
What are they digging for? What did they find? I know my mom
and her gang in Kempten ran after the American soldiers and grabbed their gum wrappers, chocolate bar wrappers and held them up to their noses--

How Truth Appears

I. The Juice That Dries Instantly

The secret mystery writing appears
when held over the toaster.
The words look a lot different than before.
There could have been a lot more of them.
The words look ancient but polite. They say:
more warmth, more heat, I want a dollar.
This is the first present I give to my mother.
She takes it and kisses me lightly before
telling me the story about when she was little
growing up after the war with no parents
because of the bomb
that went through the greenhouse.
She’s alive because she was away
that day. It was long ago.

II. My Mom And The Rubble

Somehow she lived through those first four days
knowing her parents were dead and buried. I call them
the forest days in toothpick terms. I run out the door
from kindergarten every time she tells me the story. I look
at the crater for her. I see legs sticking out of the chunks
of plaster and I see boulders of concrete with handkerchiefs
snagged on them. I see everything looking old and broken
when actually it was new. I listen
for something in her voice

to tell me what it was like
and she tells me about the soldiers—
the ones who threw down their candy wrappers.
The gang would hold them up to their noses,
sniff deeply, taste the flavor of chocolate—
the only air around that didn’t smell like rubble.

III. The War Orphans From Germany

It wasn’t me. It was her. She has told the story many times.
Until she starts to cry. Until I press her feet together
so they’ll get warm. So she knows, remembers about walking
and going. I get up from the couch and take a few steps
to the TV to turn it off but she tells me to make it louder
and to stir the lemonade in her glass. Her favorite, Pavarotti,
is singing. She presses the glass to her cheek.
Tells me to beware of mermaids. She barely says it
but I know that she did. It was something
someone told her once.

Her eyes are aligned with the glass
and her hand swirls it just a little bit. Her eyes

look sea sick as they look at me. Brown pools like potholes
in a dirt road. They close and I know she’s far off,
far from me and this house and this couch. She’s far
from her voice and her mouth. She’s far from the story
about the bomb. It’s dropped onto my head again.
It explodes alone in my heart as I wait for more talk.

a mom of many said...

What strikes me in photo after photo is just how seemingly invisible these children appear to the passersby. Amazing what we choose not to see.