Lewis Hine photo exhibit illustrates the immigrant experience in America

May 16, 2016

                      Vintage images of immigrants by Lewis Hine illustrate industrial era

Allentown, PA—One of the founders of documentary photography, Lewis Hine (1874–1940) devoted his career to making art that inspired respect for immigrants and the American working class. Beginning in 1904 he photographed immigrants at Ellis Island, determined to create portraits that depicted individuals rather than stereotypes. Hine visited Pennsylvania to document work conditions but also the strength and pride of immigrant steelworkers, railroad workers, and miners. He smuggled his camera into Southern cotton mills and glassworks, taking sobering photographs of children laboring in factories that raised public awareness and led to health and safety reforms. Drawing from all of this work, the exhibition Our Strength Is Our People: The Humanist Photographs of Lewis Hine presents forty-four photographs in black and white that highlight Hine’s gift for putting a human face on social issues that remain relevant today. Our Strength Is Our People—a title taken from the name of a photographic project that Hine proposed but never executed—opens on June 4, 2016, and continues on display through October 2 in Payne Hurd Gallery. Admission to the exhibition is free from June 26 through Labor Day thanks to the generous sponsorship of the Allentown Art Museum Auxiliary and the Keystone Savings Foundation. Our Strength Is Our People complements the Museum’s other special exhibition this summer, Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art, which illustrates the immigrant experience of artists with roots in Cuba and Puerto Rico and in Central and South America.

Our Strength Is Our People is organized into five thematic sections:

Lewis Hine’s formative experiences as a photographer took place on Ellis Island, where he initiated a photographic project as an activity for his students at the progressive Ethical Cultural School in New York. Hine returned to Ellis Island multiple times on his own to continue taking portraits. He left teaching to pursue photography professionally in 1908. Included in this section are photographs of Italian, Russian, Albanian, and Bohemian immigrants.

In the early 1900s America’s booming economy relied on large numbers of unskilled laborers working long hours for little pay in factories, on the docks, or in heavy industry. As a member of the Pittsburgh Steel Survey, a sociological project that led to increased regulation of the steel industry, Hine helped publicize the exploitation of these workers while also focusing ontheir individual strength and pride.

Included in this section are photographs of Slovak, Russian, Irish, and German steelworkers working in and around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; track workers on the Pennsylvania Railroad; mine workers at Shaft #6 of the Pennsylvania Coal Company in Pittston, Pennsylvania; stevedores in New York City; and a woman making cigars in Tampa, Florida.

Hine produced his best-known work as a photographer for the National Child Labor Committee. From 1906 to 1918 he visited factories, coal mines, and farms across the country to expose the plight of children who worked long hours in hazardous conditions. To gain entry to these industrial sites Hine sometimes pretended to be a fire inspector or insurance salesman, and surreptitiously took notes by hiding his hand in his pocket. Hine’s efforts helped push through regulations outlawing the employment of children under fourteen in every state by 1929.

Included in this section are photographs of young girls and boys working in cotton mills in South Carolina and Vermont and glassworks in Virginia, and selling papers in Brooklyn, New York.

Hine aimed to make viewers feel sad or outraged by depicting children alone or in poor health, but also demanded empathy for his subjects by capturing their resilience and potential for a better future. He sometimes looked to art history as inspiration for his compositions, posing mothers and children to evoke paintings of the Madonna.

Included in this section are photographs of an orphan in America, a street urchin in Paris, France, and several mother/child portraits taken in crowded New York City tenements.

Hine’s work emphasized the value of the American industrial worker, contradicting the popular idea that modern machinery was the driving force behind the country’s progress and prosperity. His photographs demonstrate the skill needed to operate modern machinery and the virtue of work.

Included in this section, the largest of the exhibition, is his photographic series documenting the construction of the Empire State building along with images of typesetters, typists, machinists, mechanics, silk-loom workers, tire makers, and other skilled laborers.


All works are from the collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg. Our Strength Is Our People was organized by art2art Circulating Exhibitions. It has been supported at the Allentown Art Museum through the generosity of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, our Museum Friends, and the Society of the Arts (SOTA).


Programing related to Our Strength Is Our People:

Sundays @ 1 p.m.
July 3, August 7, September 4, October 2
Thursday, July 28 @ 6 p.m.

Story Station in conjunction with Our Strength Is Our People
Sundays @ noon–3 p.m. through October 2

Every American family has its own unique story about immigration and/or assimilation in this country. Visitors can stop in any Sunday during Our Strength Is Our People and share their family history and photographs that document their family’s movement to and through America. Each week at least one story from Story Station will be shared on the Museum’s social media networks. Free

Our America, Our Stories storytelling workshop
Workshops: Thursdays, July 7, 14, and 21 @ 6 p.m.
Public Performance: Thursday, July 28 @ 7 p.m.

Using Our Strength Is Our People as inspiration, artist Lisa Facciponti will guide participants in writing and performing stories about how their families settled in the Lehigh Valley. This project is made possible by grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. To enroll in the workshop contact John Pepper at jpepper [at] allentownartmuseum [dot] org. Space is limited; $50 for all four sessions, scholarship opportunities available. The public performance of works on July 28 is free for Museum members, $5 for museum nonmembers or free with a canned good donation to benefit a local food pantry.



July 6 (Wednesday) @ noon
50 Minutes (Tour + Lunch): Our Strength Is Our People

Get a guided tour of the exhibition led by the curator, Claire McRee, followed by a stop at the Museum Café for lunch. Members $15, nonmembers $20. Call 610-432-4333 ext 110 toreserve.

August 18 (Thursday) @ 6 p.m.
Screening of Inocente, in conjunction with the SouthSide Film Institute of Bethlehem

Told in her own words, Inocente is a coming-of-age documentary about the determination of a teenage artist who struggles with homelessness, undocumented status, and poverty to win recognition for her whimsical, colorful artworks. 40 minutes. Free


Media Contact:
Chris Potash
(610) 432-4333 ext 125
cpotash [at] allentownartmuseum [dot] org


The Allentown Art Museum is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that participates in the cultural, educational, and economic life of the Lehigh Valley. Defined by a unique combination of tradition and innovation, our collections, educational partnerships, collaborative and community based programs, and exhibitions are dedicated to inspiring the broadest possible public engagement, access, and service. For more information please visit AllentownArtMuseum.org.