Lewis Hine was an established documentary photographer when Arthur E. Morgan, first chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), approached him to document life in the region. Recognized as a socially concerned photographer, Hine had earlier documented the abusive conditions of child labor in mills (including some in Tennessee) and mines in America as well as photographing European relief work undertaken by the Red Cross in 1918.
Such work made Hine the natural choice to capture conditions in the Tennessee Valley. He photographed and captioned 197 images in East Tennessee. The subjects of his work included families from Loyston in the Norris Reservoir area, workers at the Kingsport Press and in the Civilian Conservation Corps, and early construction work on Norris Dam. Many of these images, such as Washday at Stooksbury Farm, have been published repeatedly as illustrations of Appalachian life.
Initially Hine was quite enthusiastic about the TVA project, but as he continued his work, he felt the agency was not taking full advantage of the publicity possibilities for the pictorial material. In January 1934 Survey Graphic published an article by Morgan about the Tennessee Valley and used several of Hine’s images without his byline. The photographer believed Morgan had deliberately failed to credit his work. This episode, along with his disenchantment with the TVA bureaucracy, led to the dissolution of his contract with the agency. Nevertheless, his images captured a lifestyle the TVA was determined to change.