Derrick-Man / from the series Empire State Building, 1930
Lewis W. Hine, American, 1874–1940
Gelatin silver print
Image: 9 9/16 × 7 9/16 in. (24.3 × 19.2 cm) Sheet: 9 15/16 × 8 in. (25.2 × 20.3 cm)
Museum purchase funded by the Mundy Companies, by exchange
Habits of Mind
- OBSERVE DETAILS Observe details / time to think and reflect
- SYNTHESIZE Analyze and synthesize relationships and information / compare and contrast / understand the micro and macro implications
Shedding Light on Photography
Discussion through works of art encourage how to approach ambiguous and complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The MFAH offers a democratic space where students and teachers can develop, practice and articulate these habits of mind. Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking.
• Explore photographs as a source of information about the past.
• Conduct research using photographs.
Connecting to the Work of Art
Lewis Hine’s photographs of the Empire State Building document the technological achievement of that era’s tallest building and celebrate the human skill and courage that went into its construction. In this photograph, a man is seen working on one of the many derricks, or cranes, used in the construction of the Empire State Building. Hine had to lean out from the platform in order to capture the worker in action, who maneuvers the pipe pictured in the lower right corner.
In the early 1930s, to document the construction of the Empire State Building, Hine accompanied the building’s workers as they constructed what would become the tallest building in the world at the time. For this photograph, Hine carefully positioned himself on the steel skeleton of the skyscraper. The vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines, in both the stance of the derrick man and the steel structure, balance the composition. The close-up also frames the figure; the vertical steel beams, providing a seemingly secure foundation for the worker. In reality, the man’s elevated position is more dangerous than it appears in the photograph.
Hine’s empathy for human labor marks his entire career. An ardent advocate for the use of photography in education, he photographed the immigrants at Ellis Island in order to teach his students the same regard for contemporary immigrants as they had for the Pilgrims. He also documented child labor factories, knitting mills, mines, agriculture, and the street. From 1917 to 1920, Hine traveled to Europe documenting postwar civilians and refugees for the American Red Cross.
In 1930, Hine accepted the job of documenting the construction of the Empire State Building. In his late 50s, he climbed with the “sky boys” floor by floor, balancing his equipment on girders and swinging out in a basket at the hundredth floor to capture views from the top of the structure.
My six months of skyscraping have culminated in a few extra thrills and finally achieving a record of the Highest Up when I was pushed and pulled up onto the peak of the Empire State, the highest point yet reached on a man-made structure. The day before, just before the high derrick was taken down, they swung me out in a box from the hundredth floor – a sheer drop of nearly a quarter of a mile – to get some shots of the tower. The boss argued that it had never been done and could never be done again and that, anyway, it’s safer than a ride on a Pullman or a walk in the city streets.¹
1. Walter and Naomi Rosenblum, America and Lewis Hine (Millertown, N.Y.: Aperture, Inc., 1977), p. 106.
• Study Derrick Man on the Empire State Building. At what stage in the construction of the Empire State Building was this photograph taken? How does the artist make the construction process appear labor intensive and challenging?
• What is the age and condition of the Sawyer-Flood House? What details in the photograph reveal the building’s age? Discuss this photograph as part of a project to record old buildings in Galveston, Texas. Why are such projects important? How does the photograph represent the time period in which it was taken?
• Use the computer to research a particular event in history by examining photographs taken of that even (ie Civil War)
• Working individually or in a group, select several photographs that exemplify several aspects of the event being researched. Use a graphic organizer to record details that characterize the event.
• Students pretend that they were photographers at that event. Using the information above, write an article that could have been included in a news paper accompanying the photograph.
Resources Available to Order
The Art-To-Go lending library features materials that may easily be integrated across the K–12 curriculum. Resources include DVDs, music CDs, children’s books, study guides, poster sets, and collection-based interpretive materials produced by the KFEC. Educators, community leaders, and docents from throughout Texas are welcome to borrow Art-To-Go resources. To place your order, search the online catalogue and add the selected items to your basket. After you have reviewed your basket, submit the order electronically.
The Learning Through Art program at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is underwritten by:
The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.