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Eloquent images of human experience. Enduring photographs

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Lewis Hine in Europe: The Lost Photographs, by Daile Kaplan. Abbeville Press. $49.95 cloth. 12 Million Black Voices, by Richard Wright, photo direction by Edwin Rosskam. Thunder's Mouth Press. $27 cloth; $15.95 paper. ALFRED STIEGLITZ may be America's best-known photographer, but Lewis Hine made America's best-loved photographs of their period. Hine's 1904-05 images of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island have passed into the iconography of the American experience.

Hine set out to combat the prejudice against Eastern and Southern European immigrants. He often photographed single figures, thus elevating individual personality above the collective anonymity of racial epithets. On Ellis Island he found peasant madonnas and sloe-eyed children, whom he posed frontally and close up. Hine's immigrants stare at the viewer with a benign, innocent strength. They are not victims, but self-styled vernacular heroes in the vein of Mark Twain and Walt Whitman.

Hine's formula, which he later used to record the abuses of child labor, characterized depression-era photographs of migrants and is used for contemporary images of the homeless. In modified form, it is the language of ``60 Minutes.''

Lewis Hine came of age as charity work was becoming social work. Like so many of the new social workers, Hine believed that ignorance of ``the system,'' not mean-spiritedness, was responsible for human misery. He held that knowledge brings social betterment in its wake. No wonder his work is often confused with that of Jacob Riis, who attempted to arouse public sentiment against tenement building with ``How the Other Half Lives'' (1890).


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