In Black & White

David Lynch Goes From Film to Photos with ‘The Factory Photographs’

David Lynch Explores Photography and Factories in a London Photography Exhibit.

David Lynch’s first collection of photography is every bit as odd as you’d expect. The director of Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive has found a new way to bolster his unparalleled canon of weirdness.

To mark the publication of his first photography book, available next month by Prestel, the Oscar-winning director has an exhibition The Factory Photographs at The Photographers’ Gallery in London. As you step into the space, before your eyes alight on a single image, you are immediately transported into a trademark Lynch-world by the edgy, brooding soundscape. Then you see the pictures: frame after frame filled with black and white images of factories.

“I love industry. Pipes. I love fluid and smoke. I love man-made things. I like to see people hard at work and I like to see sludge and man-made waste,” he wrote, and he’s not kidding.

The first images show chimneys belching steam, power, and heat. As you work through the collection, the scenes become more stagnant, more still, as desolation takes over. Abandoned tanks and broken machinery lie motionless, and the background is often obscured by dirty windows or overgrown weeds that hint at what might be lurking out of shot.

Some of the images certainly feel contrived, but Lynch succeeds in finding grace in these industrial landscapes. “He witnessed loss and destruction, but in fact he looks for places of magic and beauty. It’s a journey through these images as a narrative structure,” said Dr. Petra Giloy-Hirtz, the curator of the exhibition and the book.

“There is a certain kind of melancholy because [the images] deal with the past and vanishing devastation and destruction. But on the other side you feel the child-like enthusiasm of David Lynch that he looks for these places because he likes them,” Giloy-Hirtz told The Daily Beast. “He said to me: ‘It’s like going to heaven.’ He’s not devastated—in fact, he really appreciates the way these magical places still exist in the high-tech world of today.”

The moody soundtrack and atmospheric clanking composed by Lynch suggest a lack of confidence in the allure of the artwork, but Giloy-Hirtz denies the director is employing his movie-making abilities to conceal any weakness in the photographs. “I think it really supports the mood as you enter the room. Of course it is mostly about the photographs. In fact, when you are standing in front of the photographs, they are enticing you in so much that you are almost listening for machinery or steam, you hear it even without any sound at all,” she said.

If the soundtrack is familiar, so is the atmosphere created by the work, which is full of silhouettes, shadows, and hints of mystery and darkness. “There’s an enormous affinity between the still photography and the moving images, you see his kind of aesthetics in bold. The beauty, the mood, and you find these black and white landscapes in his film the Eraserhead and the Elephant Man,” Giloy-Hirtz said.

The curators’ next show is an exhibition of the actor Dennis Hopper’s work, while her last focused on Julian Schnabel, a New York painter whose foray into film brought four Oscar nominations for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

Giloy-Hirtz is fascinated by photographers who have excelled in other artistic fields. “As an artist you have a certain perspective of the world, and when you are that talented and skilled you can express this in different media. This kind of inter-disciplinary modern artist has role models in the Renaissance. They embrace all mediums including architecture design and not making a hierarchy between the different arts,” she said.

The Factory Photographs is at The Photographers’ Gallery in London until March, 30 2014. The associated book will be published by Prestel on February 17.