Maritime exhibit shows early seafood industry

This photograph by Lewis Hine was taken in 1911 at the Gorenflo Canning Co. in Biloxi.
This photograph by Lewis Hine was taken in 1911 at the Gorenflo Canning Co. in Biloxi. Courtesy Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum

The works of photographer Lewis Hine give a glimpse of the early 1900s seafood industry on the Coast. These photos are on display at the Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum in Biloxi.

From the immigrants on Ellis Island to sweat shops across the nation, Hine spent much of his photography career documenting child exploitation. His travels brought him to the Mississippi Coast in 1911 and 1916.

According to the government-based site National Archives, by the 1900s Americans had begun to grow a conscience regarding child labor. They realized it led to stunted growth and lost education and began to refer to it as slavery.

Hine was so moved by the issue he quit his job as a teacher and began working as an investigative photographer for the National Child Labor Committee. His investigations brought him to document the seafood industry in Biloxi, Bay St. Louis and Pass Christian.

Hine often would sneak into factories, mills or canneries where he was not welcome and document what he saw through photography, detailed documentation and sometimes brief interviews with the child employees.

The comments that accompany his photos are often dark. Along with a photo from Biloxi in 1911, he writes, “Some of the young shrimp pickers at Dunbar, Lopez, Dukate Company; sore, swollen, even bleeding fingers are common among these workers on account of acid in the shrimp.”

Although Hine’s agenda was to expose unfair labor practices, Robin Krohn-David, executive director of the Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum, said the exhibit is a gripping look at what it took for families to survive in the seafood industry.

“To me, the photographs show how hard it was to make a living in the seafood industry back then,” she said. “It also shows the closeness of families, because the children weren’t left at home; (families) all went to work together. It made them very close-knit.”

Hine died in poverty, but his photographs helped make a difference. In 1916, Congress set improved standards regarding child labor with the Keating-Owens Act. Though it set the minimum age at 14, it was a huge step toward ending child labor.

The 25 photographs that make up the exhibit were restored and enlarged and are part of the museum’s permanent collection. It also travels to other museums. It will be on display at the museum in Biloxi through July 8. An opening reception is set for 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Historic Photography of Lewis Hine

What: An opening reception of historic photographs exhibit by documentary photographer Lewis Hine

Where: 115 First St., Biloxi

When: 5-7 p.m Wednesday. The exhibit will be on display through July 8.