Lewis Hine was best known for his use of photography as a means to achieve social reform. His camera became a powerful means of recording social injustice and labor abuses. In 1904 Hine photographed the thousands of immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island. Hine came to realize that he could use his camera for both educational purposes and social reform.
In 1908, Hine then turned his efforts to investigating and photographing child-labor abuses, both in factories and on the streets. Hine was comfortable talking with children and would attempt to get as much information as possible regarding their living conditions, the circumstances under which they were forced to work, and their names and age.
Through his photographs, Hine was able to inspire social change. His photos documenting the horrid conditions under which children were employed, made real the plight of these children. This led to the passage of child labor laws.
Hines was also well known for his photos of the building of the Empire State Building. Hine photographed the workers in precarious positions while they secured the iron and steel framework of the structure, taking many of the same risks the workers endured. In order to obtain the best vantage points, Hine was swung out in a specially designed basket 1,000 feet above Fifth Avenue. Of the many photographs Hine took of the Empire State Building, “Icarus Atop Empire State Building” became his most popular. To this day, one thing has always baffled me, particularly considering our modern day world in which everyone has his or her fifteen minutes of fame: The steelworker in this iconic American photo remains unidentified.