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The Unknown Soldier On 

Let us now praise famous mill workers

The lives of mill workers - the sentence alone could put my TV generation to sleep. Mill workers are so not Paris Hilton. Paris is famous for being famous. Mill workers are anonymous for being ignored. These citizens are granted counterculture status for no greater reason than their silence in a high volume world. As far as our consumer culture is concerned, our clothes were never made; they magically appeared at the mall for us to buy and wear. Who would have ever guessed there's an army of souls behind the making of these pants, this shirt, this pair of socks? Who would ever care? Phil Moody cares. Moody is a soft-spoken Scotsman living in the rural outskirts of Rock Hill, SC. He's a photographer and artist who has developed an interest in the life around him, in particular an interest in the work lives which blossomed, and now fade, in mill towns in North and South Carolina. As the last mills close around him, he has documented the end of a way of life which once dominated the Piedmont and survived for more than a century.

"I got to know these people personally, when the Bleachery (in Rock Hill) closed. Springs Industries let us come in and document the closing in the last two months. There were 13 mills originally — there are none now. I was touched to see skilled people with no place to go. What do these people do now?" Moody knits his brow and looks into his teacup.

Moody cares about these people. In his show Textile Towns, opening Friday at The Light Factory at Spirit Square, Moody chronicles stories of family, hope, faith and work. His art makes us listen — not because these lives are so difficult or sad, or because we feel sorry for this dissolving tribe, but because his work is beautiful and the images are moving. He has created a riveting homage to his adopted neighbors — a working class congregation long ago assembled by the arranged marriage of industry and economic necessity. Moody's stunning use of his media — color, light, photography and assemblage — is enthralling. Perhaps we can walk away with a bit of his message.

All of Moody's photographic panels are large — 80" x 80". Each is assembled with 20 16" x 20" photographs seamlessly mended together at the edges. Each piece resembles a shiny quilt, a visual metaphor acknowledging the closeness of the community and the industry which supported it. There are 20 assembled panels here at The Light Factory. Moody reveals the extraordinary in ordinary lives.

"Generations" chronicles three generations of the Brakefield clan of Rock Hill. Centered on each powder blue, grey and white panel are photographs from three generations of Brakefields, each photo tinted a different color. The photos are standard family fare: high school graduation, a studio family portrait and candid shots of family events — in the backyard, across the kitchen table, at the carnival. The oldest photo looks to be from the 1930s, the old man in overalls, a shirtless kid and slumped wife standing around the Bonnie and Clyde-era car. Moody's text is printed on the work and reveals a piece of this family:

"Most began the third (shift) and were eventually promoted to second. It sometimes took decades to get in to first. Family members often worked different shifts in the same mill — it was the accepted way of life. As Eddie was clocking out at Gate #2, he was told by those coming in that his father, who had raised eight children on the wages earned in the agers and soapers department, had died of a heart attack while leaving home for second shift."

All of these works are embossed with words running down the center swath of vertical panels. The words are Moody's — they are descriptions which set the images in context, which give us a sense of the human life behind the art. The words infuse a hardness into the varnished beauty of the image; the gleaming, gilded façade pulls you in the door, the words tell you who's inside.

"Bleachery Christmas Party" is a checkerboard of orange, red and white rectangles imbedded with green tinted photographs of the Christmas party. At the mill. Silhouetted ghost images appear on the paper, in this case toys — guns, soldiers, balloons and dolls.

For 25 years, through the 40s and 50 and into the early 60s, Christmas parties were celebrated outside the factory in a common grassy area the size of a football field. The area was cut into sections with temporary chicken wire fences separating gifts for children of different ages, gender and race. All community children came to receive gifts handed out by employees. The text reads: "The Bleachery Christmas Party was the mill's gift to Rock Hill. Each bag of cheap toys entered into the hearts of children to become the memories of adults."

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