Lewis Hine, Annie Leibovitz, and Labor Day

It is closing in on Labor Day, 2014. Important that we, as a country, remember where we came from. Especially where we were in the heady days of the early 20th century, when sociologist Lewis Wickes Hine used his camera to remind us of the people who worked so hard to move us forward. Hine’s most famous and moving works were his photographs of child laborers, whose lives were changed– finally– by those photographs. And there were adults who labored in new and rapidly growing industries, like the mechanic pictured below. Hine’s photograph is stunning for its graphic bluntness: a hard working man forever stuck within the confines of that enormous gear:

"Power house mechanic working on steam pump" By Lewis Hine, 1920 National Archives and Records Administration

“Power house mechanic working on steam pump”
Lewis Hine, 1920 National Archives and Records Administration

The image looms large enough in our nation’s collective subconscious that photographer Annie Leibovitz borrowed its strength to create a timeless portrait of tennis player Martina Navratilova. But here, Navratilova stands outside the machine, in control, with space to move:

photo of Martina Navratilova, Dallas, Texas (1994) by Annie Leibovitz

Martina Navratilova, Dallas, Texas (1994)
Annie Leibovitz

One of the hardest working girls in tennis proves that she can spin the gear singlehandedly, but can also walk away if she chooses. Many things–salaries, health benefits, working hours– have changed in the decades since Lewis Hine made his irreplaceable, compelling images. On Labor Day, we thank the people who have moved us forward.