Chapter 21: Visualizing Work

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Advertisements like these for farm equipment encouraged late nineteenth-century farmers to embrace modern technology and to leave the drudgery of “the old way” behind them. At the same time, however, these hand-drawn advertisements appeared when technology for photographs to be reproduced in print already existed.

  1. Why did the Massey and Raymond manufacturing companies use hand-drawn illustrations in their advertisements rather than photographs to display their new, time- and work-saving technologies?
  2. What values associated with agricultural work are implicit in these advertisements?

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These four photographs were taken to illustrate various stages in the production of paper at the E. B. Eddy paper mill in Hull, Quebec, in the early 1950s. As a workspace, the mill was a theatre for all sorts of sensory, embodied experiences, and yet still photographs can only hint at what those might have been. In the context of Nicolas Kenny’s chapter on Montreal’s industrial landscape (Chapter 13), however, we can imagine what workers’ bodies might have felt in environments such as paper mills.

  1. What did the various kinds of mill work we see in these photographs require of men’s and women’s bodies?
  2. What kinds of sounds, smells, and tactile surfaces did these men and women encounter on the job?

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These photographs, depicting a day in the life of a Black train porter, were created in the late 1940s or early 1950s as publicity material for Canadian National Railways (CN). In this period, rail companies were beginning to feel the commercial pressures from new modes of transportation as airline and automobile travel expanded. In particular, the infrastructure of auto mobility offered more flexible options for working-class families who sought new spaces of leisure.

  1. How do these photographs depict CN as an employer? Why would that have been considered by the company to be a useful advertising strategy?

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These photographs and advertisement visually represent the feminization of clerical work that took place through the first half of the twentieth century alongside the emergence of new technologies that transformed the everyday practices of office work. As both Kate Boyer (Chapter 15) and Jennifer Stephen (Chapter 17) explain, working women in these decades were routinely seen as a threat to the “normal” order of things on the job, whether in offices (Boyer) or wartime factories (Stephen). Regulating women workers was therefore high on the agenda of employers.

  1. What forms of surveillance are depicted in Figures 12 and 13? What might that have felt like from the perspective of those being watched?
  2. How does the text in Figure 14 allow us to think about the gendered dynamics of regulating women workers in offices in the early 1960s?

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Service stations were (and remain) significant sites of labour in Canada, but they were also regular sites of consumerism as both men and women drove cars, purchased gasoline, and required maintenance and repairs for their vehicles. While both men and women were understood to be consumers at service stations, it was men who were usually depicted in advertisements and in popular culture as doing the manly work of car repair. Indeed, as Jennifer Stephen (Chapter 17) shows, right through World War II, there was widespread understanding that women were not “fit” physiologically and mentally to be mechanics.

  1. How do the floor plans in Figures 15 and 16 demonstrate the ways in which service work and mechanical work, while consumed by both men and women, were still gendered forms of work and work spaces?
  2. In what ways do Figures 17–19 reflect the “novelty” of women as mechanics in the early 1960s? At the same time, do these photographs also suggest some changes from the example of women and mechanical work in World War II?