Whether it be a painting or photograph, the picture is a symbol that brings one immediately into close touch with reality. In fact, it is often more effective than the reality would have been, because, in the picture, the non-essential and conflicting interests have been eliminated. The average person believes implicitly that the photograph cannot falsify. Of course, you and I know that this unbounded faith in the integrity of the photograph is often rudely shaken, for, while photographs may not lie, liars may photograph. — Lewis Hine
Hine’s caution against “unbounded faith in the integrity of the photograph” echoes the aphorism usually attributed to Mark Twain that “figures don’t lie, but liars figure.” Since historians often use Hine’s images both in our teaching and our research, we need to take his views very seriously indeed.
Kate Sampsell-Willmann, author of “Lewis Hine, Ellis Island, and Pragmatism: Photographs as Lived Experience,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era,” Vol. 7, No 2 (April 2008) and Lewis Hine As Social Critic (University Press of Mississippi, 2009), here leads a forum on how to interpret Hine’s photographs of child laborers taken between 1908 and 1912 for the National Child Labor Committee. This portion of the forum focuses on images of boys working in coal mines.0