Before cameras became widely accessible, an adult might have had their photo taken once over the course of their lifetime. They had one chance to leave a visual image through which future generations would interpret who they’d been, to dress in a manner that communicated their accomplishments … or to produce a smile that would forever define them.

A dear cousin recently shared this photo taken in Paris, 1919, by Lewis Hine. It’s more than a photo of a cherub face and curly hair. There’s trepidation in child’s eyes and the set of his mouth that’s concerning. What’s the story?

It turns out Lewis Hine (1874-1940) began a New York City teacher at the Ethical Culture School. He incorporated photography as an instrument of learning, and brought students to take pictures of people newly arrived at Ellis Island. Hine understood the power of photographs to drive social change.

Hine left teaching to work as a photographer for National Child Labour Committee. His photo documentation of children working in squalid conditions were pivotal to the fight against child labour. During World War 1, Hine went on to photograph American Red Cross relief work in Paris France, during which time he must have captured this image. I wish I knew what caught the boy’s eye at the moment the shutter closed.

Hine reminds us of the task of artists—whether photographers, poets, songwriters, artists, dancers, authors, or actors—to reflect the human condition through good times and periods of challenge. History is now.