Rachel Pfotenhauer

A long, strange trip led me to India’s factories, camera in hand.

It started with a photograph Lewis Hine took in a garment factory in New York some 90 years ago. It was of an eight-year-old boy in front of an industrial sewing machine, back when child labor was legal in the U.S. There were beads of sweat on his forehead and above his lips. His eyes were big and wide. He was bent over like an old factory worker. His sallow skin hung from his bones. The image was both disconcerting and, oddly enough, hopeful. It compelled me to see for myself what conditions are like today in a place where a lot of kids are still working in factories. I headed to Asia and Southeast Asia to document what I found.

I found young girls and boys with bodies that look as worn as their clothes. I found kids working barefoot in steamy, stuffy rooms with toxic chemicals staining the floor. They work eight to ten hours a day, six days a week for 15 to 30 rupees a day ($.50 - $1.00 US). Sometimes they don’t look like children at all — they look old, exhausted and consumed.

I set out to expose the inhumanity of child labor; I got into the factories by pretending I was taking photographs for an article on textile trade. In the end, I don’t tell where these factories are, because to close them down is to put an entire village out of work. And no work means no food — the families turn to begging, prostitution and some starve.

Since my first trip in the early 90s, child labor has received a lot of attention. The mainstream media (thanks Kathy Lee!) gave it a run, and many organizations are focusing on ending, or at least regulating child labor in third world countries.

In my own small way, I am trying to keep the dialogue going through my images and research.

Destinations: India

Hard Labor

Slideshow: Sweating it Out

Photographer Rachel Pfotenhauer made her way into some of India’s factories to confront the realities of child labor. Click on to see what she found.

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