America’s industrial revolution was woven on looms and spun on spools, but it’s been decades since the textile industry began declining. Chis Payne, an architect-turned-photographer, began shooting US textile factories in 2010. He’s kept it up, too, amassing a visual diary of a changing industry.
Most of us think of mills as austere, black-and-white places, but Payne shows us the contemporary reality, dusted with neon tufts and draped with bolts of patterned jacquard.
Because the project has gone on for years, he’s developed relationships with mill owners and returning to follow up on his subjects. Despite the massive shift away from textiles, there are plenty of Americans still employed by the industry — and Payne shoots them at work:
In a recent New York Times Magazine piece, a reporter went along with him to visit the mills — and found that many old factories are still in operation, often using ancient parts bought from other operations that have long since closed. Here’s how Payne describes the project to Urban Omnibus:
It’s just my attempt to look at what’s still going on, what textiles are still being made in this country, anything from yarn to certain fabrics, carpets, apparel. It’s a huge industry and it involves almost everything that comes into contact with our skin. I started with some older mills in the New England area, but there are a lot of modern applications that I haven’t even scratched the surface of yet.
Some of these mills are booming, others are shrinking, decaying over decades of decline — but maybe because he’s such a talented photographer, Payne never lapses into ruin porn.
The project almost feels like cultural anthropology. In fact, it’s easy to see the contemporary fashion world reflected here too: the colours being spit onto bolts — Gem tones! Neon! Magenta! — are definitely on seasonal point. It’s fascinating to see what they look like long before they’re pinned with price tags and draped over hangers. [Christopher Payne]