“The true use for the imaginative faculty of modern times is to give ultimate vivifications to facts, to science, and to common lives” (Lewis Hine 1874-1940)
Currently exhibited at the Side Galley are one contemporary and one early example of the emphatic impression documentary photograph conveys when it is used to bring to light the injustices prevalent in our world. “Child Labour” and “Child Workers” brings together two photographers of compassion and integrity, and documents the plight of children in labour across the world.
Lewis Hine’s work is exhibited on the lower floor, in a simple lay out which contributes to the images’ own, inherent value. Hine’s most noteworthy work concentrated on American society, and sought to demystify many of the misconceptions which stifled an understanding that could harvest social change.
Hine worked in the first half of the 20th century, and was instrumental in the campaign for social reform which arose in protest against the squalid working conditions fuelled by the rapid industrial boom of the time. Working for the National Child Labour Committee between 1906 – 1918, Hine travelled America, and produced a thorough survey of the inhumane and illegal conditions under which many children worked.
These images convey a sense of the harsh reality that was, for many everyday life. Coalmine workers, cotton mill workers, newspaper boys and girls, agricultural workers, are all captured in a frame that is uncompromising, other than to the naked documentation of children caught in a world without innocence and irresponsibility.
The relevance for today is developed on the upper floor through a series of images and facts that echo back to and illuminate what were unimaginable circumstances for children to live in in the past, but which still prevail in the modern, enchanted, exploitative, capitalistic world of today.
The information provided is also shocking. According to the International Labour Organisation in 2002 an estimated 246 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 were working in what is defined as “Child Labour” worldwide. The definition is attributed to circumstances that restrict the natural, educational and healthy development of a child.
This condition effects 29% of the child population living in Sub-Saharan Africa, 19% in Asia and the Pacific, 16% in Latin America and the Caribbean, 15% in the Middle East and North Africa, 4% in the “transitional economies” of Eastern Europe and 2% in the “developed” world.
Overall, this epidemic of “Child Labour” affects 16% of the child population of the world, the overwhelming majority working in the backstreets and for of a system built on exploitation and inhumanity, however regenerated the façade may seem.
This is the contemporary context which Fernando Moleres’s work exposes. The pictures stare out at you from the gallery walls. The photographs display children employed in carrying soil out of gold mines, begging on streets, working in brick manufacturing, on sugar cane plantations, in fruit picking, on the shores where gigantic ships are torn apart, tanning in the leather industry, in prostitution and finally on demonstrations protesting against their working conditions.
They are images that work on a binary; they exhibit the innocence and humanity of children, yet they are shrouded in the bitter and estranged reality of their circumstances.
The importance of these works is not their aesthetic quality, not their composition or their symbolism. It is that they are invasive and evocative; they stir our humanity and present us with an ethical and moral imperative to act, to remove the injustices, and to open our eyes to the reality around us.
The international labour movement must campaign for the defence of children’s rights as defined by the ILO convention 182 and The Human Rights Treaty; Convention on The Rights of The Child.
We need to raise debate and consciousness on this issue. This is an injustice that above all else, should make humankind face with sober senses the true nature of its conditions and its relations with its kind.
If you want to visit the exhibition here is a map and two links from the Amber Online web site with more information on the two photographers.
Fernando Moleres has photographed children working in the street, on sugar cane harvests, in mines, on ship breaking, in prostitution and more, in a project that has taken five years to complete and has won him a World Press Photo award in 1998.”
Hine's work has always been a touchstone for Side. Working through newspapers, posters and slide lectures, his sustained engagement with the plight of child workers stands in stark opposition to the art photography of the photo-secessionists.”