The Birth of Industrial Photography

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Lewis Hine – Icarus, Empire State Building

From manufacturing to social awareness to industrial power.

The relationship between the photograph and industry has been continuous since photography’s beginnings. Whether to brag about the amazing things done and built or simply to show people how things were made, photography was the obvious media for both its mobility as well as its informative power. The industrialization of society was overwhelming both for the creation of new products, therefore new markets, as well as the engagement of millions of farmers and craftsmen flooding urban centers in search of a better life. The dream of a better life was an illusion for most and the conflict between owners and workers became one of the major conflicts of western society. The photographers themselves soon understood that they were photographing amazing changes in society through the industrial process and some, like Lewis Hine, realized that those changes were not always beneficial to the workers. His photography revealed the atrocious use of children, often malnourished, dressed in rags and without shoes, in various industries. And these same photographs forced the American congress to change the laws governing child labour. But Hine was also in marvel of the beneficial changes that industry made on society as can be seen by his documentation for the construction of the Empire State Building. The daring size and height of the building gave people hope that their lives and fortunes would grow as well. Photography was witness to it all.

Lewis Hine


Edward Rozzo