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Industrial portraits.

LARGE CITIES, such as Toronto, are encouraging residential and commercial growth within their old city cores by replacing abandoned rail and industrial wastelands with sprawling condominium and townhome residences. And while many hail this as an important part of urban renewal, designed to reverse the long trend of suburban sprawl, I can't help but be troubled by the disappearance of the derelict industrial core that is so much a part of the city's history. Are we in fact simply disposing of this urban history, with all its stark character, in order to create suburban banality in the city centre?

As a child, and now as an adult, I have been drawn to these empty shells -- the rusted rails lying hidden in long grasses, the sprawling steel foundries, the looming grain elevators, the labyrinth of the cement factories, the cavernous warehouses -- these playgrounds of discovery. I have found the most amazing remnants of the past glories of these buildings, including old magazines, framed photos and certificates, guest books, tools, all sorts of iron and steel refuse. Most importantly, I have found beautiful objects and scenes to photograph.

It saddens me to think that many of the buildings I photographed no longer stand. In their place, sterile developments have emerged. I look at my photographs, and vividly remember standing in these places, wandering the sites in my construction boots, crouching for an interesting angle, climbing over or through fences, setting up my tripod, and often shivering with the winter cold. I want to return, but I cannot -- the sites are now parking lots, Big Box retail outlets, or townhouse developments.

In today's North America, in the age of communication technology and the growing retail/service industry, we find few artifacts of lasting interest, little permanence, and we find virtually no character. We should not be so quick to pave over the remnants of the past -- for they teach us where we came from, what mistakes we made (and could make again), and provide us with a rich tapestry that enhances our environment and leads us in new directions of discovery.

ALBERT KAPRIELIAN is a young Canadian freelance photographer based in Kingston, Ontario.
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Author:Kaprielian, Albert
Publication:Queen's Quarterly
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Mar 22, 2002
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