by Sylvi Weidlich
It is summer in New York City. On a factory floor, three pale, serious boys go about their daily work, rolling cigars for the "Engelhardt & Company" cigar factory. Especially during peak hours, the factory employs many children. The middle one of them seems almost a bit precocious, his cigar dangling loosely in the right corner of his mouth. His cap hangs cheekily half over his head, which is lined with dark curls. Tired-awake eyes with deep rings look highly concentrated and too soon grown-up on a conversational situation. His formerly white shirt is unbuttoned to the middle. All three look like they're under 14. All three smoke.
Behind them, with their backs turned, other workers go about the business of rolling cigars. Different light sources from both the right and left as well as the deliberately chosen perspective give the impression of a seemingly endless factory where child labor is nothing unusual.
It is 1909, industrialization is setting in, many European immigrants arrive in America in search of work between 1880 and 1920. Lewis Hines documented the work under miserable conditions for the welfare organization "National Child Labor Committee (NCLC)" and photographed paperboys no more than 10 years old or girls in cotton mills, in the fields or in cigar factories. Wanting to change the situation, Hine uses his images instead of endless words as a contribution to the emerging "social documentary photography" and takes the role of the documenter.
With his directness, Hine skips over the emotion that comes with looking at a difficult situation: his images immediately and without detour deliver a punch to the pit of the stomach. Hine consciously chooses to photograph the three boys - fully aware of their responsibility of earning money to ensure their own survival - rather than show the miserable working conditions.
In 1916, America passed a law restricting child labor in its own country. The pictures of Lewis W. Hine made a considerable contribution to this.
Lewis W. Hine - Young Cigar Makers