Depth of Field, volume 2, no 1 (June 2012)

Industrial Representations of Belgian Limburg Miners in the 1950s: Photographing Corporate Culture, Labour, and Everyday Life[1]

Joeri Januarius


This paper analyzes photographic representations of Belgian Limburg miners in the 1950s as a means of gaining insight into the mining community and shrinking labour market at that time. Specific attention is paid to ‘industrial’ representations of these miners, which covers diverse aspects of the lives of workers: everyday life, labour and industrial welfare. In part, this will be done through an historical and visual content analysis (quantitative and qualitative) of the pictures printed in the various jubilee issues published by the mining interests themselves. A variety of questions will be addressed: How were the miners depicted? What does the context tell us? What do we learn from this information? This analysis will contribute to our understanding of the changes in corporate culture in the 1950s on the one hand and, on the other hand, the specific, physical representation of miners and their community. This paper can be seen as making a contribution to the developing fields of a visualizing social history, media history, and a cultural approach to business history.

It is generally accepted that some aspects of the past can only be investigated by using certain sources, but this is particularly true with regard to historical industrial pictures. Written documents such as ledgers are necessary to learn about total sales or wages, first person interviews provide information about workloads or social relations on the floor, and drawings, paintings or photographs are invaluable in the study of an industry’s reputation and the actual working conditions within the industry. Photographs are especially relevant because they are perceived as images of the reality (whether or not captured with aesthetic concern).[2] Hence, photos of workshops, machinery, transport systems, social works (e.g., dwellings), the production line, owners and workers, protesters and strikers are valuable when studied and interpreted to gain insight into an industry’s image,[3] virtues of work or labour conflicts.[4] This cultural history not only adds to business or labour historiography, but it moreover provides indispensable, unique information with regard to these histories. A subgenre consisting of photos of people may also be conceived: (famous) owners, (eminent) customers, and (mostly anonymous) workers. The latter are depicted for many reasons.[5] What are these reasons? Do they help in the creation of an image of prestige, trust, corporate spirit, assiduousness? Do they reveal workers’ exploitation or militancy? I will develop this question and focus on the way enterprises used photos of their workers. I will deal with two historiographical traditions (business history and labour history), although, overall, the largest contribution of this article is to the field of (historical) visual culture and the use of pictures as a source for history writing. While studying the ways in which Belgian Limburg miners were depicted in the 1950s, I speculate on how colliery owners themselves used this photographic content in (actively) producing an image of their own industry. Furthermore, the relationship between the individual picture and the collective image, the (visual) context of production and the role of its textual reference will be stressed.[6]

This narrowly defined area and era offer particular advantages: photographing workers was well established and sources are thus abundant; moreover, the industry moved from feverish activity to a recession that announced the end of the mining sector in the 1970s. How did this evolution influence the way workers were depicted? I will thus investigate photographs that colliery owners initiated, in order to understand how they perceived the changing mining community. With both a qualitative and quantitative content analysis of photographs I hope to grasp the visual strategies of mine owners in a period of wide economic fluctuations. This study also takes a comparative stance. The area (known as Kempen or Campine) had seven mining centres.[7] Recent research found important differences between the seven mines in terms of recruitment and composition of the workforce.[8] These mines competed with each other to attract workers, although they had agreements not to do so.[9] Different strategies may thus appear in policy and image building, which include visual strategies.

This paper has four sections. The first discusses literature on representations of labour and, more specifically, mining, thus elaborating on the theoretical and explanatory framework. The second examines and contextualises the sources and the methodology. The third reports on the quantitative research based on the whole visual corpus, and provides a thematic overview of the quantitative and qualitative research on visual representations of miners in the 1950s. Finally, the conclusion will offer thoughts for additional discussion.

Visualizations and Labour: Bodies at Work [10]

Workers (or working bodies) may be depicted in various ways, in which not only the themes (labour, aspects of everyday life, industrial activities, etc.), but also the type of labour and the point of view of the image need to be taken into account. One of the possible approaches to depicting the working body is the (social) documentary tradition, as examined by, e.g. Rudolf Stumberger and Richard Hiepe.[11] This point of view is exemplified by Elspeth Brown and David Gray, who respectively focused on photography of the National Cash Register Company and of the Farm Security Association.[12] A similar, yet very different approach, is offered by industrial photography (e.g. photographs of corporations or trade unions). Strangleman places heavy emphasis on the use of corporate material as valuable documentation of industrial activity, specifically in periods of social and economic transformation. Indeed, during these periods, framing ‘better times’ is one strategy. As Strangleman puts it, ‘[the] changing nature of work, and especially the eradication of many traditional industries, has proved to be a fertile ground for representation and memorialisation’.[13] In addition to interpreting these visualizations as having temporal interest, Marchand also stresses the more structural strategies of companies while dealing with this visual material as a part of their internal and external communication. The creation of a corporate identity and reputation can be a powerful tool to avoid appearing ‘soulless’ (e.g. preventing the company from being perceived as an impersonal entity).[14]

Corporations can of course apply different visual strategies at the same time, involving merchandising and commercial activities, public relations, or programmes of social welfare, thus bonding themselves with employers, workers and customers.[15] In his analysis of the photographic archive of General Electric, David Nye demonstrated that one should not speak of a single corporate or industrial representation, but rather of multiple representations. An organization does not create one social reality through photography, but rather different visions, depending on the target audience. In the case of General Electric, Nye distinguishes ‘four sets of self-representation’, which were aimed at four distinct groups: engineers, workers, managers, and consumers.[16] Larry Peterson focused on trade union magazines and private photography at the Pullman factory. His long-term perspective (1880-1980) enabled him to detect subtle changes in the complex visual imagery of the company. At the end of the nineteenth century, the company is depicted with impressive architecture and workers as objects. At the turn of the century, however, the idea of Pullman’s Big Family arises to replace the image of workers as subordinates. Portraits of managers and groups of workers, and themes such as celebrated pensioners, medical issues, safety and hygiene reinforce the involvement of workers (while still indicating the hierarchical structure of the company). Thus, as the industrial climate changed, so too did the content of the photographs; more attention was paid to human interest photojournalism.[17] Marchand speaks more generally of recurrent patterns, not intended for a specific industrial branch. Besides using a corporate personality (e.g. the founder of the company), individual portraits and pictures of industrial plants, recognizable corporate features (e.g. colours or logos), and trade cards can be distinguished.[18]

How is this imagery to be understood within our defined mining context? It is very difficult to measure the impact of corporate representations on the workers themselves: how did they perceive those images? Could they identify with the images published by the company, or was the proposed reality divergent from their experience? This problematic issue is closely related to bigger theoretical debates on the construction of, as well as recurrent narratives on, the mining community and the mine worker himself.

In his essay on public history, C. Griffin underlines the complex relationship between the stereotypes about community life, the workplace, trade unionism and striking, and the story (also visual) told by the National Coalmining Museum for England.[19] The debate, however, is broader and actually applies to different European mining sites, bringing into question the future heritage and the memory of coal mining. Within popular culture and film studies, B. Hogenkamp notices that mining is a popular theme in feature films when compared to other industrial branches. Looking at this specific visual medium, he argues that ‘[film] makers have drawn from a relatively limited array of images and story lines when attempting to represent the experiences of mining communities’.[20] Furthermore, Hogenkamp discerns three sources of inspiration in the film business: novels, art and illustrations, and the press. The French novel Germinal, written by Emile Zola in 1885, indeed emphasizes the strangeness or particularity of a mining community. As early as the sixteenth century, various studies on mining were illustrated, whereas in the nineteenth century, mining became an inspiration for painters and sculptors (e.g., Constantin Meunier). Furthermore, the illustrated press, which printed articles with photographs, also influenced the global image of ‘the mine worker’. Finally, Strangleman et al., basing ideas on the work of P. Ackers and D. Gilbert, argue that popular and academic research on (British) miners has classified miners in two camps: as either a part of the proletariat,[21] or as a separate fraction of (industrial) society.[22] Ackers warns about the creation of a stereotypical miner, which ‘[is] an offence to historical sensibility’, and ‘[can] exist only outside space and time, therefore not at all’.[23] Gilbert deals more specifically with British mining communities, using as a foundation Benedict Anderson’s idea that (even small-scale) communities are imagined constructions.[24] In his literature review, Gilbert argues that stereotypes applicable to specific mining communities are often generalized: ‘tightly-knit single-industry communities, socially and often geographically isolated and distinctive’.[25] Therefore, he deems it necessary to go beyond the local view, thus underlining the diversity of mining settlements (e.g. looking at settlements other than company towns) and being more critical towards community life in general. Within this trend, L. Beyers analyzed the mining community of Zwartberg, paying specific attention to the often-complicated relationship between the settled workers and various generations of newcomers from Eastern Europe and Northern Africa between 1930 and 1990.[26]

The jubilee editions of six mining settlements in Belgian Limburg are interpreted not only as an outcome of (local) corporate politics but also as a vehicle of stereotypical framing of the global mining business steered by the colliery owners themselves.

Corporate Photography (in Jubilee Publications)

Corporate publications have been recently rediscovered, most specifically by business historians.[27] The history and the meaning of these publications have already been explored for, among others, France, Britain, and the United States.[28] Modern corporate publications first appeared at the end of the nineteenth century, albeit with an amateuristic or exclusive character (intended for specific employees) prior to 1914. After 1918, this genre became much more widespread. Little is known, however, about Belgium’s corporate press.[29] An inquiry of 1962 showed that the bulk of these publications were produced after the Second World War, as only eleven corporate magazines existed before 1940.[30]

There is a wide range of corporate publications, which reflects the diversity of the aim of each. In this paper, I will deal with one specific genre: the jubilee publication. I analyze six jubilee editions that celebrate the fiftieth anniversary (1907-57) of the mining towns in the Campine basin.[31] These were published to highlight important elements of local coal mining history and corporate structure. In 1957, the idea to create such a publication arose during a meeting of the employers’ federation, the Associatie der Kempense Steenkolenmijnen, which represented the various mining sites in the Campine basin. At a meeting in March, 1957, six months prior to the September celebrations, it was announced that six mining settlements had each agreed to publish their own book, and that contacts had been established with two publishers.[32] Later reports of these meetings do not reveal more common decisions about the publications, other than that at the April meeting the representatives decided to publish two versions of the book (one in Dutch and one in French), and that 2,000 copies would be printed.[33] The content-related discussions were held within the individual mining centres. In the mine of Winterslag, for instance, some letters between the mine and the publisher shed light on this issue. The directors of the mine clearly indicated their wish to have an ‘abundantly illustrated text’, with enough room to honour the achievements of the former and current directors.[34]

Although each book has its own structure, content and visualization, some basic elements are common. Each has an introduction and a short history (paying particular attention to geography). More significantly, a great deal of information about production as well as a view of both under- and above-ground installations is offered; illustrations are either in the text or as a separate annex. The books stress the novelty of the mining business in Belgian Limburg rather than trying to create an industrial tradition in an area where mining was not really popular. The pictures compose a visual corpus of 546 industrial photographs. One book leaves the names of the photographers out (Limburg-Maas); Helchteren-Zolder (Studio Minders, Photo Lux); Beringen (Photo Lux, Photo Aerienne, Actualit); André Dumont (Studio Minders), Zwartberg (Studio Minders, Martin Sergysels & Dietens) and Winterslag (Studio Minders, d’Otreppe) mention them at the back of the publications. Unfortunately, it remains unclear how each specific book was composed and how colliery owners, photographers and publishers collaborated. These books are foremost an object of prestige distributed to the employees of the mines.

An interdisciplinary methodology combining a quantitative and a qualitative visual analysis – or close reading, with focus on interpretation based on returning descriptions and context in the latter – was used to extrapolate meaning from this corpus.[35] First, the 546 photographs were analyzed quantitatively, based on a conceptual framework with relevant key concepts linked to the study of the literature. Then, in order to analyze the representations of mineworkers and their community, the corpus was culled to 169 images. This way, only relevant pictures of mine workers were analyzed both quantitatively and qualitatively. The variables used to encode the images included the contextual reference and subject of representation, number of depicted persons, features of appearance, and gender. After a first qualitative reading of the corpus, the concepts were refined to ensure that none of the central concepts were missing. Based on the quantitative results, the smaller corpus was then arranged by theme, and analyzed qualitatively, taking into account the composition and the language of the photograph.[36]

Visual Representations of Mines and Miners

Structural similarities: one mining community …

A first approach of the photos reveals a very homogeneous image of mining and the mining community in Belgian Limburg in the late 1950s. The similar structure and the seemingly recurrent topics of the jubilee editions can, of course, be explained by the parallel evolution in the history of the mining sites in the Campine basin. One such returning image is the sudden industrialization of the area in the beginning of the twentieth century: previously, this had been a rural, thinly populated region with a local population uninterested in mining activities.[37]

This general image is reinforced when looking at specific elements in the structure of the books. First, although every picture has a descriptive caption, the information remains general. In almost all cases the depicted mine workers remain anonymous: name, age and function are unmentioned. There is one exception in the Winterslag edition: a mine worker named Cops, who, during a celebration in 1951 (fifty years after the discovery of coal in the Campine basin by André Dumont), was photographed walking in a procession with the first piece of coal dug from the mine, which he himself had brought up (fig. 1).[38] Second, pictures rarely make reference to the nationalities that were present in the mining community, and therefore create a very ‘Belgian’ and inaccurately homogeneous view of mining. Finally, some pictures can clearly be linked to a specific mining site (e.g., corporate buildings, houses in company towns, general landscapes). However, due to the nature and composition of the pictures (anonymous miners, underground installations, and mining gear) the specificity of each mining site tends to get lost. The visual language of industrial photography is in this case very similar, leading to a loss of individual identity.[39] Furthermore, the same photographer – Willy Minders, owner of ‘Studio Minders’ – illustrated four of the six jubilee editions (Limburg-Maas, Helchteren-Zolder, Winterslag, Zwartberg, Waterschei). Minders, a photographer and painter from Genk, was deeply interested in the evolution of landscapes in the Campine basin.[40]

Fig. 1. Image of a mine worker named Cops in 1951 (Winterslag 1907-1957, 1957, p. 28)

… or thematic diversity: emphasizing individual identity?

A thematic analysis reveals that approximately 75 per cent of the 546 pictures show ‘industrial’ subjects, while 25 per cent include ‘social’ aspects (see table 1).

Table 1: thematic overview of the number of pictures, percentages and totals

Jubilee edition

industrial photos

social photos

Total corpus














André Dumont/Waterschei










































These percentages are consistent for four of the collieries (Zwartberg and Waterschei being exceptions). Zwartberg offers a more balanced view of social (41.7 per cent) and industrial (58.3 per cent) themes, whereas Waterschei focused almost exclusively on the industrial side of its history (84.1 per cent). The number of photographs also differs widely: Beringen (148 photos, or 27.1 per cent of the visual corpus) and Limburg-Maas (106 illustrations, or 19.4 per cent of the visual corpus) contain the most images, whereas Zwartberg contains only 48 images (or 8.8 per cent of the corpus). These frequencies must be interpreted carefully. Clearly, all the Campine mining sites placed more value on the visualization of the ‘industry’ than on the ‘social’ aspects of mining. Moreover, the mining sites of Beringen and Limburg-Maas paid a lot of attention to the visualizations of their jubilee editions compared to the other industrial sites.[41] However, the differences remain hard to explain because the necessary contextual information (i.e., budget, editorial issues) is not available for all the publications.

Fine-tuning the variables ‘social’ and ‘industrial’ sheds light on local, thematic approaches.[42]

Table 2: overview of the ‘industrial’ pictures

Jubilee edition

industrial pictures



working miners


28 (19.2%)

15 (10.9%)

8 (12.9%)

André Dumont/Waterschei

23 (15.8%)

34 (24.6%)

9 (14.5%)


51 (34.9%)

17 (12.3%)

28 (45.2%)


22 (15.1%)

40 (29%)

3 (4.8%)


10 (6.8%)

24 (17.4%)

11 (17.7%)


12 (8.2%)

8 (25.3%)

3 (4.8%)


146 (26.7%)

138 (25.3%)

62 (11.4%)

The images labelled as industrial (see table 2) refer to machines and installations (26.7 per cent of the total corpus) and industrial scenery (25.3 per cent) (figs. 2 and 3). Containing 34.9 per cent of the images on machinery, Beringen clearly stands out, whereas the other mines (and in particular Winterslag with only 6.8 per cent and Zwartberg with 8.2 per cent) focus much less on their industrial tools. Waterschei (24.6 per cent of the industrial pictures) and Limburg-Maas (29 per cent of the industrial images) emphasized their industrial buildings The pictures of working miners (11.4 per cent) form a third, albeit smaller, category (fig. 3). Beringen has 28 photos, or 45.2 per cent of these pictures; in the books of Limburg-Maas and Zwartberg the mine workers go virtually undepicted, each containing a mere three pictures. The final two themes, strikes and safety issues, are here of marginal importance, which comes as no surprise given the purpose of the publications.

Fig. 2. Image of the shaft in Winterslag (Winterslag 1907-1957, 1957, p. 42)

Fig. 3. Image of a ‘snelschaaf’ (Kolenmijnen André Dumont, 1957, photo annex)

The label ‘social’ also offers a diversified image of the various mining sites (see table 3)

Table 3: overview of the ‘social’ images

Jubilee edition

industrial pictures

social welfare



everyday life

board members


4 (10.3%)


8 (28.6%)


3 (18.8%)

André Dumont

4 (10.3%)

3 (10.7%)

3 (10.7%)

1 (3.4%)

1 (6.2%)


6 (15.4%)

8 (28.6%)

6 (21.4%)

6 (20.7%)



15 (38.5%)

10 (35.7%)

5 (17.9%)

1 (3.4%)

1 (6.2%)


3 (7.7%)

5 (17.9%)

4 (14.3%)

12 (41.4%)

11 (68.8%)


7 (17.9%)

2 (7.1%)

2 (7.1%)

9 (31%)



39 (7.1%)

28 (5.1%)

28 (5.1%)

(29 (5.3%)

16 (2.9%)

Quantitatively, the most important of these themes is social welfare (39 photos or 7.1 per cent of the total corpus). Limburg-Maas, with 38.5 per cent of these pictures, emphasized its social welfare provisions (such as hospitals and schools). The cultural activities around the mine and everyday life scenes in the company town, contributed approximately 5 per cent to the total visual corpus. Beringen (28.6 per cent) and Limburg-Maas (35.7 per cent) dominate in their representations of cultural life. Similary, roughly 5 per cent of the images are on housing (with 28.6 per cent of these pictures of Helchteren-Zolder and 21.4 per cent of Beringen). Images of everyday life scenes in the company towns, however, show a different pattern: Winterslag (41.4 per cent) and Zwartberg (31 per cent) clearly invested in this theme. Helchteren-Zolder (no pictures), Waterschei (one picture), and Limburg-Maas (one picture) on the other hand, almost completely ignored social contacts, family structures, and community life. Finally, 3 per cent of the total visual corpus (16 pictures) was dedicated to portraits of board members. Although this seems a negligible quantity, 68.8 per cent (or 11 pictures) were published by Winterslag, whereas other mining sites published no pictures (Beringen, Zwartberg), one picture (Waterschei, Limburg-Maas), and three images (Helchteren-Zolder).

Two provisional conclusions are possible at this stage. The pictures labelled as ‘industrial’ (machinery and industrial scenery) are the most important in these jubilee editions. The overall image of the Belgian Limburg mining sites is thus dominated by industrial evolution and novelty. Although the social themes are less (re)presented, each book does offer diverse (but also specific) human insights in an industrial world. Indeed, each mining settlement subtly highlights, through the selection of illustrations, its corporate identity and important landmarks in its fiftieth anniversary. In comparison to the other jubilee publications, Winterslag, for example, clearly found it important to visually represent the company not only by photographing its mine workers, but also by amply depicting important directors, engineers and board members as a sign of mining tradition. Winterslag was indeed the first of the Limburg mines tapping coals already in 1914 and producing in 1917.[43] Zwartberg was known as one of the most modern mines in Belgian Limburg. By emphasizing the everyday, the book highlights not so much the known strengths of the mine. The same goes for the mine of Eisden and its well-organized company town.

The second part of this analysis deals with the photographs of the workers. Although there are differences, a significant relationship is lacking between the various mining sites and the ways in which “their” miners were depicted. Yet, this suggests that even within different mining sites, there are differences in how the workforce itself was perceived and subsequently represented visually. One of these differences is linked to the composition of the image, i.e. whether the mine worker is alone (in the case of Waterschei and Beringen) or portrayed in group (the other mines). There is a good deal of heterogeneity in this aspect: in Beringen 67.6 per cent of the pictures show men working (or men pretending to do so), while in 32.4 per cent the miners were posing. The opposite is true in Zwartberg, with respectively 26.7 per cent and 73.3 per cent. The differences are less pronounced in the books produced by the other mines. Finally, the workers wear work-related clothes in almost 80 per cent of the cases.[44] Again, these results should be interpreted carefully; there is no explicit composition, and although there are differences between the mines, these are not straightforward. The visual representation is indeed labour-orientated, with a focus that varies in degree between the individual worker and that of the collective body of workers.

This general impression must be refined by taking a closer look at the pictures. Two types of miners can be distinguished: the industrial mine worker in a working context and the everyday mine worker. Clearly, the images of the working miner prevail in the jubilee editions. A typology of four images can be discerned. The first strong and returning image (in all mines) is the mine worker as ‘hero’ (figs. 4 and 5). The images appear without any context: the miners are anonymous. Neither names nor functions are revealed, thereby reinforcing the mystique of the picture and the heroism of the industry. In some cases, they appear in action, with great emphasis on the working body. In the case of figure 4, the setting remains vague. In the back of the picture, a wall of what is most likely coal is visible. The focus lays on the dusty heads of the two men, looking up in opposite directions, consequently imbuing this static picture with a certain level of dynamism. We cannot be certain that these two men really are mine workers. Nor can we be certain that the photo was actually taken in the underground of Waterschei rather than in front of an artistic collage made by the photographer in a studio. Here, indeed, the artistic value is of greater importance then the assumed documentary value. In a manual titled ‘How to take industrial photographs’, this type of picture is referred to as ‘human interest’. It is, according to the authors, important for every industrial photographer to be able to capture the men behind the machines and the industry. And ‘[emphasis] on the man, rather than on the machine, is usually given in those photographs which are to be used in the various house organs a company publishes’.[45] In the chapter on human interest, the manual provides the industrial photographer with different technical insights on taking this type of picture (indeed, the making of a picture, i.e., the right lighting, was still a time-consuming matter). It is, of course, highly unlikely that the industrial photographers in the Campine basin knew of this specific publication. Nevertheless, it sheds light on the (common) practices of industrial photography and some technical specificities at that time.

Fig. 4. Image of underground mine workers (Kolenmijnen André Dumont, 1957, photo annex p. 11)

Fig. 5. Image of a underground mine worker (Kolenmijnen André Dumont, 1957, photo annex p. 1)

Closely related to this theme is the industrial documentary picture, in which the context or the background of the image is the focus, rather than the mine worker himself. The images show (posing) workers executing daily under- and above-ground activities. The machinery and the associated industrial operations are central, while the pitmen operating the machines look serious and are subordinated to them (fig. 6). Again, the captions only mention the industrial activity or the specificities of the machinery; the miners themselves remain anonymous. In the same photo, the miners are demonstrating the use of a mechanical shovel machine; whether the machine is really working is another matter.

Fig. 6. Image of miners operating a mechanical shovel machine (Limburg-Maas 1907-1957, 1957, p. 44)

A next step takes us to pictures where the mine worker is just a part of the industrial scenery (fig. 7). These images show impressive industrial landscapes, interior shots in the factory as well as outdoor pictures of the main buildings of the mine. The angle from which the pictures are taken influences the perspective of the industrial scenery and enhances the power of these industrial sights. The mine workers seem to have no real function other than to indicate the magnitude of the scenes.

Fig. 7. Image of a coal conveyor (Kolenmijnen André Dumont, 1957, photo annex)

Again referring to the manual ‘How to take industrial photographs’, these photographs are a part of what Beezley and Zielke called ‘pictorial interest’. Each individual picture should have a specific aim, enforced by careful lighting and the position of the camera. The suggestion that ‘[a]s a general rule, an angling, three-quarters view is the best camera position. In such location, the camera may be placed high above the equipment to give the effect of looking down. It seems as if it may have been applied in taking the photo in figure 2.[46] Beezley and Zielke also emphasize the importance of the framework, interpreting workers as part of the context of the machinery. ‘[W]orkers shown in a photograph add reality and warmth’, and ‘[i]n photographing this relationship, it is important that man looks as though he belongs to the machine. The best method for achieving naturalness is to use as models [emphasis added] men or women who actually operate the equipment’.[47] So, these general ‘technical’ pictures can, from the point of view of the industrial photographer and the Belgian Limburg mines, be interpreted as standardized images composed according to a certain premise or scheme.[48]

A last type of industrial representation connects with the second view on the mine worker: the everyday miner (fig. 8). These pictures show smiling, happy men, in work attire, posing in a group or put together in a collage by the photographer. Although present in every book and suggesting a high camaraderie and joy of work, the number of these images is relatively low. This is also the case for the pictures of the globally labelled everyday-life activities of the Belgian Limburg miners. The first series is propaganda for social welfare, cultural activities, and sports: miners posing in sports uniforms, drinking milk at the milk bar, reading a book at the library, and so on. A second series shows (possibly staged) scenes from the domestic everyday life of miners and their families. This is especially true for Zwartberg. A domestic ideology speaks from these types of pictures: families with children (who were seen as future workers), served by mother who controlled the household when father went to the mine. This propagated domestic ideology is, as other research shows, not only applicable to Zwartberg, but is more widespread in other mines and industries.[49]

Fig. 8. Image of an ‘everyday mine worker’ (Winterslag 1907-1957, 1957, p. 74)


Two main ways of representing mining and miners appear from this analysis of the jubilee editions: the focus on labour-related themes (i.e., industrial scenery in the form of impressive machinery and industrial installations), and the social side of mining. Linking this to a general context, these books summarize and visualize the history of the Campine collieries at a specific moment. The fiftieth anniversary of mining in Belgian Limburg at the end of the 1950s was, of course, the primary motivation for publishing these books and offers an important frame of interpretation. Additionally, the changing reality associated with emerging economic problems in the Belgian (and European) mining business also has to be taken into account. Therefore, not only the past (the accomplishments of the mines), but also the future of the mining sites (their industrial strength and competitiveness) are possible frames of interpretation.

On a corporate level, these jubilee editions show a small part of the identities that a corporation can create through the use of media. The 1950s were a decade in which the emergence and the growing success of corporate publications becomes apparent. Here, the collieries seem to place their labour identity in the centre. Harsh work and impressive industrialism, yet, get softened by adding a human face to the mining business; images of workers operating machines, as well as images of social welfare and cultural activities around the mine, all help to humanize the sector. Nevertheless, the quantitative analysis revealed the slightly different accents each mining company placed in its publication (e.g., Zwartberg emphasised the importance of scenes from everyday life, whereas Winterslag emphasized important members of the company). It is remarkable to see that it is not so much the known individual strengths of each mine that are visualized.

Finally, the stereotypes of Belgian Limburg (hard and dirty work, impressive working conditions, feeling of camaraderie, etc.) that are still visible today in various media found their origin in these publications, therefore suggesting that the colliery owners produced a specific image of mining and miners through these books. Two questions (among others) remain open for discussion First, as previously mentioned, it is very difficult to measure the impact these publications had at that time on those involved (and in particular, the miners). Second, these jubilee editions were analyzed separately from other media. Corporate magazines of Limburg mining towns in that period could offer different insights or confirm the results, not only by affording a long-term perspective but also as a slightly different communication tool for corporations. Moreover, the impact of foreign visualizations (e.g., in Britain, Germany, Netherlands) on the mining business and possible influences on, or interactions with, the images in the Campine basin should be considered in future research.


Joeri Januarius (b. 1983) studied history at the Vrije Universiteit in Brussels (2005) and journalism at Erasmushogeschool (2006). He is presently associated with the departments of History and Communication Studies at the Vrije Universiteit, Brussels, where since September, 2007, he has been working on a dissertation entitled Reflexies van het dagelijkse leven. Visuele representaties en herinneringen van mijnwerkers in Belgisch Limburg, ca. 1910-1966.


1. I wish to thank Dr. Daniëlle De Vooght and Prof. Dr. Peter Scholliers (both Vrije Universiteit Brussel) and proofreader Jay Paul Bullard for their insights and comments on earlier drafts of this paper.

2. Hannig 1994, p. 269.

3. E.g., Nye 1985; Marchand 1998; Tenfelde 1994; Brown 2005; Tanner 2006.

4. E.g., Street 2004; Wolkowitz 2006.

5. Lüdtke 1994, pp. 70-71, 80-82.

6. Jäger 2009.

7. These centres were Beringen (1922-89), Eisden (1923-87), Houthalen (1938-92), Waterschei (1924-87), Winterslag (1917-88), Zolder (1930-92), and Zwartberg (1925-66).

8. Delbroek 2011.

9. Versteegh 1994, pp. 133-35.

10. This title is based on Wolkowitz 2006.

11. Stumberger 2007; Stumberger 201010; Hiepe 1986.

12. Brown 2008; Gray 2006. For an elaborate overview of the literature on this matter, see Jäger 2009.

13. Strangleman 20088, p. 1496.

14. Marchand 1998, p. 10.

15. Hayes 2002.

16. Nye 1985, p. 148.

17. Peterson 1992, pp. 41-46.

18. Marchand 1998 also deals with different individual American case studies. Other (European) cases have been explored by Tenfelde 1994, Tenfelde 1996, Griffiths 1995, Dredge 2008.

19. Griffin 2006. For a global insight on the discussion, see for instance De Groot 2009.

20. Hogenkamp 2005, p. 86.

21. See also Geary 2005.

22.Strangleman et al. 2008.

23. Ackers 1996, p. 167.

24. Anderson 2006.

25. Gilbert 1995, p. 51.

26. Beyers 2007.

27. See for example the special issue of the journal Management & Organizational History, 2008, vol. 3-4 and recent articles by Heller 2009 and Rowlinson & Delahaye 2009.

28. Respectively, the colloquium L’image d’industrie et ses usages. Histoire et iconographie (2008, publication forthcoming 2012), Heller 2009; Marchand 1998.

29. Bracke 2000, p. 332.

30. Basch/Thoveron 1962, pp. 201-03.

31. See the enumeration of the jubilee publications in the Source references.

32. Rijksarchief Hasselt, Zolder, Verslag van de vergaderingen van de comité-gérants van de AKS te Hasselt op 01/03, nr. 673, p. 1.

33. Rijksarchief Hasselt, Zolder, Verslag van de vergaderingen van de comité-gérants van de AKS te Hasselt op 12/04, nr. 673, p. 1. According to a financial note, ultimately 3,000 books were printed for the mine of Zolder. The cost to publish one book was 157 francs, so the publishing cost of the books alone comes to 471,000 francs (Rijksarchief Hasselt, Zolder, brief aan etabl. Mavaux, 16/09/1957). A written, undated list accompanied the letter, showing the dignitaries who received a copy of the publication.

34. Rijksarchief Hasselt, Winterslag, Lettre Lucien Meert 10/05/1957.

35. Bell 2003, pp. 11-34; Januarius 2008.

36. Rose 2001; Wester 2009. The basic steps of close reading were followed: description and transcription, summaries, and reviews.

37. Januarius 2009.

38. Winterslag 1957, p. 28.

39. Marien 2002.

40. Ruelens 2010.

41. The total number of pages varies: Limburg-Maas (95 p.); André Dumont (57 p. + photo annex), Winterslag (79 p.), Zwartberg (70 p.), Helchteren-Zolder (82 p.), Beringen (104 p.).

42. Social variables = everyday life scenes, sports, housing, cultural activities, social welfare and portraits of board members; industrial = safety and hygiene, strikes, machines and installations, mine workers and labour, industrial landscape and scenery.

43. De Rijck/Van Meulder 2000, p. 21.

44. No significant link was found between the different mines and the appearance or clothing of the pitmen.

45. Beezley/Zielke 1948, p. 66.

46. Beezley/Zielke 1948, pp. 1-2.

47. Beezley/Zielke 1948, p. 2.

48. See also Brown 2005 and her analysis of photography and the rationalization of American industrial culture.

49. Januarius 2009.

Source references

50ste verjaring van de steenkoolmijnen van Helchteren & Zolder, Brussel: Malvaux, 1957.

50e verjaring Limburg-Maas 1907–1957, Brussel/Luik: Desoer,l 1957.

1907–1957. Zwartberg, Brussel: Bodden & Dechy, 1957.

Beeringen 1907–1957, Brussel: Goossens, 1957.

Charbonnages de Winterslag, Bruxelles: Dotreville, 1957.

Kolenmijnen André Dumont. Naamloze Vennootschap Waterschei, Brussel: Cuypers, 1957.

Rijksarchief Hasselt, Zolder, Verslag van de vergaderingen van de comité-gérants van de AKS te Hasselt op 01/03, nr. 673.

Rijksarchief Hasselt, Winterslag, Lettre Lucien Meert 10 May 1957.

Rijksarchief Hasselt, Zolder, brief aan etabl. Mavaux, 16 September 1957.

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