Through the Photographer’s Lens

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Waterloo Region has always been known as a business and manufacturing hub. An entrepreneurial spirit exists here that from pioneer days has adapted to the economic ups and downs of the times.  Before WWII, industry had grown to include the manufacture of goods of all kinds: footwear, furniture, rubber, electrical and metal products, clothing, food products and more. Kitchener-Waterloo was also a home for the head offices of many insurance companies.

The region underwent an industrial boom during and after WWII. The population grew significantly, wages went up, and people saved money. Demand for manufactured goods increased nation-wide, and for a few decades the manufacturing and service industries in the Waterloo Region rode on a tide of prosperity.  However, since the 1970’s one industry after another has failed, some due in part to foreign competition or declining demand. The old factories have suffered various fates: some have been demolished, some re-purposed into condominiums or studios, and some remain closed. The only way to recapture that industrial past is through the photographer’s lens.

Local photographers Charles Belair and Robert Nicol (Personal Studio) documented the industrial presence in the Waterloo Region after WWII through their commercial assignments. They worked for a broad spectrum of companies, photographing executives and groups of people at ceremonies and social occasions, products for advertising, and buildings and machinery. They also took extraordinary photographs that are not commonly found in a professional photographer’s repertoire: they photographed people working inside those buildings at their jobs. These images convey a great deal about working conditions for both men and women at the time, in occupations that no longer exist here or that have changed beyond recognition.

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