As a child, my father taught me how to use a slide rule and draw parallel lines with drafting
triangles. His engineering influence began my appreciation for machines and has always stayed
with me. While he would not admit it, I suspect he was a little disappointed when I enrolled in art
school and chose photography as my profession.
Over the years my work has given me the privilege to peek behind the curtain of manufacturing and see the processes and people that make it possible. Most of that work showcases the newest, most advanced, state-of-the-art automated devices you can imagine. Rarely, do I come across machines that have been lovingly kept running for decades in their original form.
Maintenance, cost, labor, and parts generally consign aging machines to unused factory corners, basements or eventually, scrap.
These images reflect a fading mechanical world of manufacturing. This small scale factory ran weaving and knitting machines designed to knit wool into cuffs, collars, sleeves, yokes and garment bodies. Later these parts would be hand assembled into the final products of jackets and sweaters. The sounds of these working machines were complex, rhythmic, hypnotic, and incredibly visual.
While I did shoot video on site, it was the still images that told more of the machine’s story as it handled delicate strands of wool. Most of these machines were well-worn with colors of industrial green and polished steel with heavily oxidized surfaces covered in a coating of fur made from oil and wool fibers. I chose black and white to quiet the dynamics and help reveal the interaction and structure. One of my favorites details is the easily overlooked flat-bladed screws. The wear marks in the slot reveal the dominant direction of a turning screwdriver for adjustment—an artifact of human touch. There are hundreds of them all working together to keep the threads moving without breaking.
The remarkable company that housed this history is no more. It was absorbed into a larger outfit and I suspect most of these machines have fallen silent. But for decades machines like these ran continuously knitting and weaving cloth to their own tune.
All photos are copyright Robert J. Pennington. To see this entire series, visit the rpenn.com website