Lewis Wickes Hine (American), Cotton-Mill Worker, North Carolina, 1908, Gelatin silver print, 4-5/8 x 6-9/16".

Lewis Wickes Hine (American), Gracie Clark, Spinner, (Center) With Her Family, Huntsville, Alabama, November 13, 1913, Gelatin silver print, 4-7/16 x 6-7/16".

Documenting the Worker in the Wake of the Industrial Revolution

Lewis Wickes Hine (American), Sadie Pfeiffer, Spinner in Cotton Mill, North Carolina, negative 1910, print about 1920s-1930s, Gelatin silver print, 11 x 14-1/16.

Milton Rogovin (American), Cuba, 1989, Gelatin silver print, 7-1/16 x 6-15/16".

Unknown, American, Man with Carpentry Tools, about 1848, Hand-colored daguerreotype, 2-11/16 x 2-1/4".


J. Paul Getty Museum
Getty Center
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles
In Focus: The Worker
November 3, 2009-March 21, 2010

The more than 40 prints in this exhibition are drawn from the J. Paul Getty Museum collection — from daguerreotypes to gelatin silver prints. Some represent key moments in history and have become icons. Others, less well-known, demonstrate a occupations and trades that interested photographers. Together, they reveal shifting attitudes toward the worker over the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Industrial Revolution was transforming life in the Western world when photography was invented in 1839. All types of workers were central to these changes and the camera was used to picture them. In Focus: The Worker presents a photo history of working people across many cultures.

In its day, a daguerreotype portrait was considered a luxury product, especially those that were hand-colored.

In Man with Carpentry Tools, the photographer treats his subject with studied consideration. The carpenter regards the camera with a grave expression, and we sense that it might be the first time he has ever been photographed. His tools, including a bench plane and miter saw, sit before him as elements in a formal still life.

This portrait looks staged for a variety of reasons. The pile of wood shavings at the bottom right corner is too tidy to reflect actual work in progress. The austere background and composition also point to a formal photography session in a studio rather than in the carpenter's workroom.

Placement of the Caissons, Eiffel Tower, Paris, April 1887 offers a view of the people and materials behind the construction of the Eiffel Tower. Louis-Émile Durandelle, shows workers dwarfed by piers and caissons that will become part of the tower's foundation. The site dominates the frame, with only a small element reserved for the sky at the top.

Durandelle is known for his architectural photographs, especially of public monuments. The tower's architect and namesake, George Eiffel, likely commissioned him to record various stages of construction as a documentary record. This photograph came from Eiffel's own personal archives.

Photographer Lewis Hine made Cotton-Mill Worker, North Carolina, 1908 on assignment for the National Child Labor Committee. By framing the scene tightly with low camera height, Hine establishes an eye-to-eye relationship between the young girl and the viewer. His work documenting negative effects of child labor was among earliest and most effective uses of photography as a catalyst for social change.

The enormous sewing machine behind this young worker in Sadie Pfeiffer, Spinner in Cotton Mill, North Carolina stretches behind her as if to infinity. Unsmiling, she rests a hand on a window sill and the other on the machine. Her seeming ease in the bleak environment is disconcerting, as if she knows it better than the landscape or playground on the other side of the window.

Milton Rogovin traveled to coal-mining areas throughout the world and created a series of environmental portraits of miners at work and at home with their families. His purpose was not to represent the wearing-down effects of hard labor per se, but to call attention to individuals whose jobs are characterized by constant danger and low pay.

This photograph is one part of a diptych made near Guantánamo, Cuba. Rogovin builds the picture around the central figure, a man who appears to be a leader among the group of men that surrounds him. Presenting him head-on and informally posed, the artist shows us that this man is both courageous and proud.

Paul Wolff (German, about 1940), Man with Pipe, Gelatin silver print, 23.2 x 17.6 cm.

Louis-Émile Durandelle, French, Placement of the Caissons, Eiffel Tower, Paris, April 1887, Albumen silver print, 27.6 x 43.7 cm.