Textiles: The Photographic Art of Christopher Payne


Photographer Chris Payne’s architectural background is indicative of his love of design, assembly, and the built form. He traded his pencil for a camera and the result is an insider’s view into the nearly lost art of craftsmanship and manufacturing in the United States.

The photographs in his work, Textiles, capture the symmetry, hypnotic motion, and stunning color of the rarely-seen mills where the fabrics and other textiles we admire daily—and sometimes take for granted—come to life.

orengeFollowing is Chris’s statement about his Textiles photographic collection, along with a selection of the many images included in the project which is still in progress. See the entire collection of Textiles images at his website, HERE.

yellow“In this era of service jobs and office work, most of us have never been inside a factory. Several decades of overseas competition, unequal trade policies, and a flood of cheap imports have decimated American factories. Since 1990, job losses in apparel and textiles have been greater than those in any other type of manufacturing, and today we have little idea where, or how, the shirt on our back is made.

workshop“In 2010, I discovered an old yarn mill in Maine that reminded me of the state hospital workshops I had photographed for my book, Asylum. While those places had long been abandoned, this mill was fully operational, a scene from the past miraculously coexisting with the present. I returned to the mill several times, and from conversations with employees, learned of other mills in the Northeast, many still functioning as they had for decades, using vintage equipment now prized for producing the “genuine article.”

lady“In 2013, I toured several mills in the Carolinas, where the majority of textile production eventually migrated from New England, because the labor was cheaper. The mills are vast and mostly automated, and have survived by adapting technologically to the global marketplace. Though they bear little resemblance to their Northern forbearers, they are bound by a common history and are economically dependent on each other. By the time a finished fabric reaches the customer, it has passed through many factories, each a crucial link in the chain of production.

purple“Over the past five years, I have gained access to an industry that continues to thrive, albeit on a much smaller scale, and for the most part, out of public view. With my photographs I aim to show how this iconic symbol of American manufacturing has changed and what its future may hold. I also wish to pay tribute to the undervalued segment of Americans who work in this sector. They are a cross section of young and old, skilled and unskilled, recent immigrants, and veteran employees, some of whom have spent their entire lives in a single factory. Together, they share a quiet pride and dignity, and are proof that manual labor and craftsmanship still have value in today’s economy.”

blue-fabricChristopher Payne is the author of several books: New York’s Forgotten Substations: The Power Behind the Subway, Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals, and North Brother Island: The Last Unknown Place in New York City. Soon to be published is Making Steinway: An American Workplace, a tour through the famous Steinway piano factory in Queens, NY.

His exhibit, Asylum, will be on display in New York city at the Benrubi Gallery from Feb. 11 to March 26, 2016. Read more about his other projects HERE.

All images © Christopher Payne / Benrubi Gallery. Used with permission.


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P Martin

So sad to see the industry’s that have left our country.

Caroline Little

What great information. I did not know we still have these in our Wonderful USA. This would make a wonderful toured trip.
Maybe someday…

Mary Clark

I wish there were more fabric industries in the USA. I am a quilter and have found the quality of the fabric is down but the price is up.

L White

Seeing this is refreshing after watching the documentary “Cotton Road” last week on PBS. The documentary was excellent – the message was disturbing/ disheartening. Thank you!

Sue Gray

This is a trip I have always wanted to make & hopefully some day I will get the opportunity !! What a wonderful tour, in pictures, of some of what goes on with a piece of fabric being processed & on to the consumer !! So sad a lot of this has gone, Good Quality Fabric is so hard to find & seems to only be in the Quilting Stores which is good but prices have so gone up & unfortunately some of the quality has gone too !! Thanks for posting this wonderful story ! !

eve elliott

Would love to tour one of these factories!!

Shirley Kasprzyk

Awesome pictures. Enjoyed very much.