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5 September 2016

We revere our national holidays like we revere nothing else so we'll be away today. But that doesn't mean we can't have a little fun before we go.

Oklahoma City Newsies. By Lewis Hine for the National Child Labor Committee.

Fun was not in the cards in 1908 when photographer Lewis Hine was engaged by the National Child Labor Committee to document child labor across the nation. The collection, which took a few years to complete, includes 5,313 image at the Library of Congress, many of which can be viewed online.

Child labor was neither uncommon or illegal then. Labor was physical and in short supply. Children would help out on the farms, picking crops, but they would also work in factories, mines and city streets as messengers and paperboys.

Hine captured the diversity of their work and also the conditions in which they worked, many of them shoeless. Often he was only able to make a group shot when the children were at lunch.

He most often used a wooden box camera hand-held, capturing 4x5 and 5x7 glass-plate and film negatives for either contact prints or enlargements.


His captions show he chatted with his subjects about their lives. Here's one we came across about a family of cotton pickers:

Children of Lawrence, a renter near Tinney, Okla. They go to Prairie Lee School. Beula is 13 years old and picks about 200 pounds a day when cotton is good. She drags and carries a bag that holds 50 pounds and more before it is emptied. Norma is 10 years old and picks from 100 to 150 pounds a day. Drags the sack which often holds 50 pounds or more before emptied. Randall is 9 years old; has picked over 100 pounds a day -- usually less. He does not carry quite so large a sackful as his sisters.

And here's another that's a bit darker:

Rural Accident. Four weeks after the accident Clinton was using his remaining hand to help in the farm work as best he could. His mother said: "Now we will have to educate him."

The image of three Oklahoma City newsies accompanying this essay is captioned:

Jack Ryan, 6 years old and Jesse Ryan, 10 years old. Onem Smith, 12 years old and lives at 1506 S. Robinson St. Onem said: "I never have been in school in my life but I got a pretty good education -- sellin papers." Been selling here 6 months. See report on Truants by L.W. Hine. These boys are truants who were photographed during school hours.


Our version of the image is heavily edited. The original at the Library of Congress looks like this:

Three Newsies. Original aspect ratio and crop.

Hine was aiming downwards and askew at the three boys, standing in front of a cigar shop. The headline of the day says, in part, "American Ship Shelled..."

We downloaded the sepia TIFF and used Camera Raw to add some Clarity and improve the tonality.

Then we tried correcting perspective with the Upright tool, which we had to use in Guided mode, drawing parallel lines to indicate the adjustments. That's the photo we ran at the top of this story.


It's an interesting composition either way.

The boys take up half the shot in the edit, the blank column of the building itself much more dominant.

The bag would, we suspect, be more newspapers. The newsies would buy them at a discount and sell them on the street at full price, pocketing the difference. The younger boys each carry one, the older boy has several.

They are all wearing caps and shoes and jackets. Well-worn shoes. The knees in Jesse's pants are torn. They're not as well dressed as the messenger boys of the era, who also had bikes, but they're a lot better off than the children working in the factories, mines and fields.

Why Hine included that big expanse of the building is worth a little further observation, though. And in our perspective-corrected edit, it's a little easier to notice -- and to pin the blame. We suspect from the height of the mark that Jack was responsible.

It's just one more detail that does make you appreciate the things we take for granted today.

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