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David Lynch unveils photographs of desolate factories in new exhibition

A recurring motif in his films, Lynch first started photographing abandonned factories in the early 1980s

The Oscar-winning film director David Lynch is best known for his surrealist and dreamlike films including Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive. But Lynch also has a fascination with abandoned factories, which he began photographing in the 1980s, the aesthetics of which are a reoccurring motif in his films. Now he is having his first ever photography exhibition in Europe of these desolate factories at the Photographers’ Gallery in London in January 2014, to coincide with his first photography book, The Factory Photographs.

The bleak series of black-and-white photographs of derelict factories in England, Germany, New York and Poland include cooling towers blowing smoke into the sky. A more dreamy shot of a factory in New Jersey is taken from across the water. Other images show broken windows and dimly lit factory rooms focusing in on the old machinery, pipes and foreboding factory walls.

Lynch had always heard that the north of England had the greatest factories and took a trip there but was greatly disappointed. “Everywhere we went the factories had all been torn down. There were just fields and the smokestacks were all being torn down...,” he said. “And the factories that they put up in place of the old factories were corrugated metal, little, bitty things, zero personality, zero beauty, and it was a very depressing trip, very depressing. There were a couple of things we got but the big factories were gone.”

The exhibition will also feature sound works created by Lynch, which resemble the noises of thumping and hissing machinery. A special screening room will show his films, Eraserhead and The Elephant Man to connect the film’s industrial themes to his photography.

Lynch started his career as a painter at the Pennsylvania Academy of Art. Although his favourite theme is industrial landscapes, he also takes photographs of female nudes. 

Petra Giloy-Hirtz, curator of the exhibition and author of The Factory Photographs, says: “He is obsessed with factories and has a childlike enthusiasm to explore these places. The viewer is drawn into the mood of these photographs and invited to invent their own narrative.”

‘The Factory Photographs’, The Photographers’ Gallery, London W1 (thephotographersgallery.org.uk) 17 January to 30 March. The associated book is published by Prestel, priced £40