Christopher Payne studied architecture at Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania before beginning his career as a photographer specializing in the documentation of America’s vanishing architecture and industrial landscape. These photographs have been gathered in three books: New York’s Forgotten Substations: The Power Behind the Subway (2002), offered dramatic, rare views of the behemoth machines that are hidden behind modest facades in New York City. Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals (2009), which includes an essay by the renowned neurologist Oliver Sacks, was the result of a seven-year survey of America’s vast and largely shuttered state mental institutions. Payne’s new book, North Brother Island: The Last Unknown Place in New York City (2014), a collaboration with writer Randall Mason, explores an uninhabited island of ruins in the East River.
Payne’s recent work, including a series in progress on the American textile industry, has veered away from the documentation of the obsolete towards a celebration of craftsmanship and small-scale manufacturing that are persevering in the face of global competition and evolutions in industrial processes. He has been awarded grants from the Graham Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York Foundation for the Arts. His work has been featured in publications around the world and several times in special presentations by the New York Times Magazine.