Can Photography End Child Labor?

No doubt you are familiar with some of Lewis Wickes Hine's work. He is the guys who took the iconic photographs of the workers who constructed the Empire State Building in New York City. But what you may not know is that he first shot for the National Child Labor Committee, documenting the child workforce of America during the industrial revolution. And that his work went on to influence politicians and law makers by drawing national attention to the harsh realities of child labor. This attention eventually led to sweeping changes in policy. So, it was a photographer and his images that helped eradicate child labor in North America and it will likely be photographers, who continue to do the same around the world, that will help eliminate it globally.

In 1916, photographer Lewis Wickes Hine helped put a stop to child labor in America by documenting young children in the workforce. See how photographers today are trying to do the same in Bangladesh and beyond.

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This weekly storytelling series uses the imagery of photographers and adventurers around the world to give us a deeper connection to and understanding of the human condition.

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Adam Ottke's picture

Putting a face or image behind an atrocity to cement the fact that it really is happening has more power than many will give it credit for. At the end of the day, the politicians that have the power to change things literally tomorrow, and not just in decades, see the same front page of the New York Times that we do. And if those pages include images that force everyone to face the truth about these situations, those things will change over time. Sebastião Salgado is perhaps one of the greats, too, that comes to mind (his life's work is just such a complete and thorough body and examination of the world around us and human nature...fascinating, as is Hine's legacy).

Dr. Dominik Muench's picture

I wish I had your optimism in this case but unfortunately I don't think its a matter of politics but economics and politicians have always been the puppets of the big conglomerates and as long as people want to buy $2,50 t shirts and board shorts from Kmart made in Bangladesh and $1 dollar crockery made in china these slavery conditions will exist, cheap shit is cheap for a reason. The choice has to come from the consumer to make more ethical shopping decisions and quite often this seems hard because for many, there aren't other options or people are just not informed about where products come from in which case such photo essays can definitely help educate...but expecting help from our politicians...I'm not too sure.

Adam Ottke's picture

It's a slow process, but it is getting better day by day. In this case, I'm referring more generally to the possible effect and power of the photojournalist. Yes, big money has big power. But at the same time, people in power (at least in this country) really do have hearts (some of them, somewhere...).

I think it was in an episode of Vice's documentary series in which one of the journalists on the ground discusses covering Bosnia in the 90s and how a copy of the New York Times was thrown down on the table by Clinton with the picture of a boy that had been killed. Don't quote me on that...but the situation was similar. And things slowly changed from there on out.

We could continue to argue about how more could always be done, how much intervention by outside nations there should have been or should be in the future, etc. But in this case, it wasn't until photos made it real that the international community at least began to acknowledge that something was even happening. And that was the first step...even if the damage had been done/would continue to be done...

I would recommend "How the other half lives" by Jacob Riis, for anyone interested in early photojournalism for social change. I did a report on it for a college photo class, and was in awe to see an original print at the New York Public Library.