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Left, One of Lewis W. Hine’s photographs known as “Madonna of the Tenements” in the National Gallery of Canada’s collection (via amica.davidrumsey.com), and its inspiration (right), Raphael’s “Madonna of the Chair” at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, Italy (via spiritsite.com/gallery/art/medmar/part3.shtml).

At the New York Times Lens blog, James Estrin speaks to curator Alison Nordstrom, who is opening a major retrospective of Lewis Wickes Hine photographs next month at the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation in Paris.

This passage caught my eye about Hine, who often used his camera to encourage social reform, and how he started to think of himself as an artist, which was uncommon for photographers during his era.

*   *   *

James Estrin: And [photographer Lewis W.] Hine started thinking of himself as more as an artist?

Alison Nordstrom: There are photographs that are very romantic and pictorialist. He was certainly aware of painting and he talked about the influence of a Raphael Madonna on some of his “Madonna of the Tenement” pictures. It’s later, with “Men at Work,” that it seems quite clear — both from his writing and the work itself — that he is beginning to think of himself as a modernist artist.

One of the things that made him quite different from photographers of the time is that he insisted on a byline. He referred to his own photographs as “Hineographs” and expressed that they were different from other kinds of photographs. He insisted on keeping his negatives and he was basically attempting to use them as stock. He is a really interesting character.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.