Between 1908 and 1911, the photographer and social reformer Lewis Hine travelled the U.S. for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC) documenting child labor — in factories, textile mills, canneries, and coal mines — focusing in particular on the Carolina Piedmont.
Amongst the hundreds of photographs he made in this time is this unique set of composite photographs of Southern cotton mill workers.
Each image was created by purposively rephotographing several workers upon the same photographic plate. The idea of overlaying portraits in this way was not without precedent.
The technique was invented in 1880s by Sir Francis Galton who used multiple exposures to create an “average” portrait from many different faces.
For Galton, the primary purpose of the method was so as to advance his views on human ideal types, and it could be argued that Hine used it in a similar way (albeit divorced from the somewhat suspect context of phrenology), to generalise his observations regarding the damaging physical effects of the back-breaking factory work on young bodies.
However, the fact that Hine overlays faces of quite different physicality perhaps implies a subtler motive, one perhaps more orientated around the haunting quality of the final image.
The composites were never published in Hine’s lifetime, although the portraits of the same children used in the process do appear in posters for the NCLC alongside such headlines as “Making Human Junk: Shall Industry Be Allowed To Put This Cost On Society?”.
In general, Hine’s heart-rending images from his time with the NCLC — often the result of putting himself at great personal danger — helped to influence the change in several laws, including the Keating-Owen Child Labor Act of 1916.
John Comenius’ Orbis Sensualium Pictus (or The World of Things Obvious to the Senses drawn in Pictures) is, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, “the first children’s picture book.”
Originally published in 1658 in Latin and German, the Orbis — with its 150 pictures showing everyday activities like brewing beer, tending gardens, and slaughtering animals — is immediately familiar as an ancestor of today’s children’s literature.
This approach centered on the visual was a breakthrough in education for the young, as was the decision to teach the vernacular in addition to Latin. Unlike treatises on education and grammatical handbooks, it is aimed directly at the young and attempts to engage on their level.
The Orbis was hugely popular. At one point it was the most used textbook in Europe for elementary education, and according to one account it was translated into “most European and some of the Oriental languages.”
Its author John Comenius, a Czech by birth, was also well-known throughout Europe and worked in several countries as a school reformer.
His portrait was painted by Rembrandt, and according to an 1887 edition of the Orbis, Comenius was even “once solicited to become President of Harvard College.” (Although he never came to Harvard, one can still find his name engraved on the western frieze of Teachers College at Columbia University.)
Even if he is less celebrated today by name, his innovative ideas about education are still influential. In his Didactica Magna, for example, he advocates for equal educational opportunities for all: boys and girls, rich and poor, urban and rural.
Despite his progressive aims and lasting educational influence, Comenius does not come off as a thoroughly modern schoolmaster.
When we turn to the first page of the Orbis, we find an opening sentence that would seem peculiar in today’s children’s books: “Come, boy, learn to be wise.”
We see above the text a teacher and student in dialogue, the former holding up his finger and sporting a cane and large hat, the latter listening in an emotional state somewhere between awe and anxiety.
The student asks, “What doth this mean, to be wise?” His teacher answers, “To understand rightly, to do rightly, and to speak out rightly all that are necessary.”
Zoe Williams and her children Thurston and Harper, with friend Thomas, in front of the ‘weird’ Cholmondeley Ladies.
Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian
by Zoe Williams
I took my children to Tate Britain in open defiance of the artist Jake Chapman, who says taking kids to galleries is a “total waste of time”.
I think it opens up a different kind of conversation: at home, I often feel like I’m interrogating my children (What did you do at school? Who was fun, who annoyed you, what did the teacher say, how come you were sad?) and they’re always finding new and inventive ways to evade me.
Gaze “not at each other, but in the same direction”, wrote Seamus Heaney.
We went to Tate Modern over the summer for a general look around; unhappily, I had taken them to McDonald’s on the way, and they each (my two and their two cousins) let go of a helium Happy Meal balloon in the Turbine Hall.
“That’s probably the first time that has ever happened,” said an attendant, as we watched the balloons lodge themselves in the rafters.
Before that, I’d taken them to the Schwitters in Britain show at Tate Britain, on which occasion my youngest, then three, insisted on wearing her cha-cha heels. Yes, I put my toddler in high heels, what of it? People actually went up to her and asked her about them.
The problem on both those occasions was not my children, but other people. A drizzly Monday morning with no one else about was much mellower. I had my two – Harper, five, and Thurston, six, and Thurston’s friend Thomas, seven.
Thomas took a puckish delight in pointing out everything that either was a naked person or looked like one: to the determined eye, it turns out, this includes all art. I
t took in Henri Gaudier-Brzeska’s Red Stone Dancer, the terrifying sculptures of Jacob Epstein, and everything by Henry Moore.
Thurston was keenly vigilant in case I saw any penises. Whether that was for my own propriety or because it would be embarrassing for the world to know that I might have seen one before, I have no idea.
We all had a long chat by Frederic Leighton’s Athlete Wrestling With a Python – who would win? Could the python’s venom drop on to his arm and kill him, even as he throttled it? Everyone thought The Cholmondeley Ladies looked “weird”.