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Lewis Hine’s Photographs of Refugees for the American Red Cross, 1918–20
Sonya de Laat

From June 1918 to April 1919, the American social photographer Lewis Hine made photographs of refugees in Europe. Refugees emerged as an unexpectedly humanitarian subject during World War I. Care for them was part of the American Red Cross’ (ARC) overall war relief activities, which Hine was hired to visually record. In this paper, I present the way in which refugees went from being framed in the ARC’s mass-circulated popular Red Cross Magazine as unique, innocent, idealized war-affected civilians to eventually being visually displaced in a shifting humanitarian landscape. For refugees who were, by 1920, making their way across the ocean to North America, visual displacement from the humanitarian visual sphere was tantamount to territorial displacement. Anxieties and negative rhetoric of the unassimilated alien prevailed, resulting in the temporary ‘closure’ of America’s borders and the ARC’s growing American-centric relief activities. Entwined with anti-Bolshevism, American immigration, and isolationist politics of the early twentieth century, Hine’s photographs and the ARC’s role in contributing to humanitarian photography are an early example of a rise and fall in sympathies towards refugees that would continue throughout the century.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs