Those of you with regular salaried jobs, with benefits, working for big employers, should be feeling grateful right about now. You can be thankful you don't have to pay self-employment tax. And I pay every morsel of my own benefits with after-tax cash, too. I am my own welfare state. Guess that's why I work nights and weekends.
And speaking of labor, I've always liked Lewis Hine, the pre-eminent photographer of the workingman. Not necessarily because of a visceral attraction to his photographs; to me they're more meaningful than they are aesthetically pleasing (although some of them are that). Hine himself, who remains opaque to me except through the window of his work, was a bootstrapper, self-made, an upright man with a heightened sense of ethics as well as empathy, a man on a mission whose mission actually succeeded. (Of course now our capitalists have simply moved our bad labor practices to other countries, but never mind.) He virtually invented social documentary photography, or at least helped greatly to define it. It's not easy to be clear about what you're doing when no one's ever done it before.
At his most grandiloquent he called his photographs "Hineographs." Self-promotion, it must be admitted, was not his genius.
You'd say he was an American success story, except he was more or less the opposite: a self-made, hard-working, moral, inventive, creative, caring person who contributed immeasurably to society...but ended up forlorn and forgotten, begging for work. Nobody cared about him or supported his work in the later part of his life (Stryker turned him down for the FSA, in which he was desperate to be included), finally losing his house and being forced to apply for welfare in his old age (yeah, I know. Quiet, please). Even his archive went nomad, given the Dear John by MoMA before finding refuge at George Eastman House after a waystop at the Photo League.
It's a bit dangerous to recommend a BBC video to a worldwide audience, because sometimes they're not viewable everywhere. But here goes. Worked for me, in quiet backwater Wisconsin USA. Tasty, if you're able to see it.
Regarding that new book by GEH's Alison Nordström they talk about, it puts me in an increasingly familiar quandary: I'd love to have it, but I can't have everything, and I already have several books about Hine, including Passionate Journey which has already gotten rather pricey. But can I afford not to have the new one? It includes an entire facsimile of the justly famous Men at Work—which however you can buy in an inexpensive reprint. What to do, what to do. One thing's for sure...he who hesitates is lost, or, rather, he who hesitates will pay through the nose later. Note those prices for Passionate Journey.
At least I could write it off my taxes.
(Thanks to Christian Kurmann)
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Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Paul Butzi: "Hine is of my photographic heroes, if only because he uttered the words 'If I could say it in words, I wouldn't need a camera'—eerily similar to Robert Frost's response when asked to explain a poem: 'You want me to say it worse?'
"It seems to me that Hine is to social documentary photography what Louis Armstrong is to jazz trumpet—if you're go to work in that field, you first discover that the very first thing you need to do is learn how to do everything they did. The second thing you discover is that they covered an awful lot of ground, so just catching up to them is not so easy as you might expect. Most social documentary photographers today fall far short of Hine's aspiration: 'There are two things I wanted to do. I wanted to show the things that needed to be corrected. I wanted to show the things that needed to be appreciated.' His ability to do both at once has not often been matched. Salgado comes to mind, and then I start to have to work to come up with names."