On May 2, Master’s student Kasia Kieca will be presenting a paper, titled “Industrial Visions: The Politics of Assemblage in Lewis Hine’s Men at Work (1932),” at Cornell University’s Department of German Studies graduate symposium, On Seriality:
In 1932, American photographer Lewis Wickes Hine published Men at Work: Photographic Studies of Modern Men and Machines, a photobook marketed to adolescents. In this publication, Hine juxtaposed photographs he took for the Empire State Building’s public relations department with photographs of men working on various industrial operations which he had taken for multiple commissions around the United States. In the introduction of the book, titled “The Spirit of the Industry,” the reader is asked to consider the laborers who make the functioning of modern society possible: “Cities do not build themselves, machines cannot make machines, unless back of them all are the brains and toil of men.” This paper will argue that despite this heroizing credo and Hine’s insistence that his camera was capturing the “human side” of industry, Men at Work instead underscores the alienation of the early twentieth-century worker from both his place in the larger industrial operation and from the goods he was laboring to produce. Through the dynamic and sometimes incongruent arrangements of photographs and text, this book presents only isolated moments of industrial operations. Indeed, there are no photographs of completed projects. Published amidst one of the worst years of the United States’ economic depression, Men at Work is further complicated by the volatile socio-political context in which it emerges. This paper will aim to place this book within its larger historical context, while arguing that the meaning created by its fragmentary assemblage is one that eluded even Lewis Hine himself.