Christopher Payne Photographs the Production Line of One of America's Last Pencil Factories | Yellowtrace

Christopher Payne Photographs the Production Line of One of America's Last Pencil Factories | Yellowtrace

Christopher Payne Photographs the Production Line of One of America's Last Pencil Factories | Yellowtrace

Christopher Payne Photographs the Production Line of One of America's Last Pencil Factories | Yellowtrace

Christopher Payne Photographs the Production Line of One of America's Last Pencil Factories | Yellowtrace

Christopher Payne Photographs the Production Line of One of America's Last Pencil Factories | Yellowtrace

 

For over a century, the General Pencil Company has meticulously crafted the humble writing, drawing, and doodling instruments formally known as pencils. Back in 1889 when the Jersey City factory first opened, a world without pencils would have been unimaginable. Now, in the age of texting and typing, it is one of the last remaining pencil factories in the US.

As basic a piece of stationery they may be, pencil-making is no mean feat, with huge volumes of wax, graphite, paint, and cedar planks converted into a singular lightweight, neatly uniform products. It’s a multi-step process undertaken over multiple levels in the factory. Charcoal is processed in the dark basement, where an industrial sharpener shapes each pencil into a perfected point. Graphite cores are heated and placed in perforated cans before being dipped in hot wax.

American photographer Christopher Payne captured every satisfying stage of the pencil-making process over thirty visits to the company’s production floors. Consistently inspired by the complexity of manufacturing and industrial process throughout his work, Payne sought to capture the intricacies of making pencils, perhaps the most ubiquitous of writing and sketching instruments.

 

Christopher Payne Photographs the Production Line of One of America's Last Pencil Factories | Yellowtrace

Christopher Payne Photographs the Production Line of One of America's Last Pencil Factories | Yellowtrace

Christopher Payne Photographs the Production Line of One of America's Last Pencil Factories | Yellowtrace

Christopher Payne Photographs the Production Line of One of America's Last Pencil Factories | Yellowtrace

Christopher Payne Photographs the Production Line of One of America's Last Pencil Factories | Yellowtrace

Christopher Payne Photographs the Production Line of One of America's Last Pencil Factories | Yellowtrace

 

Some images capture wide scenes, showing employers working a discernible process at some stage of the pencil-making process. Pastel extrusions used for coloured pencils are malleable and noodle-like as they’re laid by hand onto grooved wooden boards, like dough being coaxed through a pasta machine. Others images are close-up and more abstract, more closely resembling contemporary art, such as a shot showing rows upon rows of royal blue pencils waiting to be boxed up.

Rather than outsource to overseas production, the General Pencil Company stands proud amidst a fast-gentrifying Jersey City, and a world which types and taps much faster than it will ever handwrite again. It’s as if Payne captured the last dinosaur, although we sincerely hope this one is not going extinct anytime soon.

 

 


[Images © Christopher Payne/Esto.]

 

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One Response

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    Elizabeth Schiavello

    Serious subject matter envy going on here! What an amazing shoot.

    Reply

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