BBC Culture

Glimpses of a film that David Lynch never made

  • Smoke and mirrors

    A new exhibition of photographs by David Lynch hints at untold stories from the director of Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive. Initially taken when scouting for shooting locations, the Factory Photographs series – showing for the first time in Europe at London’s Photographer’s Gallery – suggests settings for films Lynch has yet to make. “If you said to me, ‘Okay, we’re either going down to Disneyland or we’re going to see this abandoned factory,’ there would be no choice,” Lynch told Rolling Stone in 1980. “I’d be down there at the factory.” (All photos: David Lynch/The Photographer's Gallery)

  • Beautiful decay

    Taken over 30 years in Germany, Poland, Britain and the US, the series of black-and-white images of derelict factories documents a disappearing industrial era. But they are not mournful: “I love factories that are derelict factories where nature is starting to reclaim the place. And you get this fantastic thing of decay with the machines,” says Lynch in his book The Factory Photographs, published to accompany the exhibition.

  • Door of perception

    Yet Lynch is not interested in reproducing reality, or following the tradition of industrial photographs by artists like Lee Friedlander or Robert Adams. Instead, he lends his signature dreamlike vision to brick rubble and peeling paint. He creates otherworldly spaces, leaving the viewer to imagine what scene the man behind Twin Peaks could have filmed there. “Black has depth,” he told the filmmaker Chris Rodley in Lynch on Lynch. “It’s like a little egress; you can go into it, and because it keeps on continuing to be dark, the mind kicks in, and a lot of things that are going on in there become manifest. And you start seeing what you’re afraid of... it becomes like a dream.”

  • Industrial set

    Lynch created the sets and furniture for Eraserhead and Lost Highway in large part himself, and he brings this singular vision to his photographs. “It makes me think, this photograph can cause a lot of thoughts,” he said in a 2012 interview. “It is quite magical. To me it is another world... I just like going into strange worlds.”

  • Ghost in the machine

    Lynch‘s Factory Photographs book follows a narrative arc from distant panoramas to extreme close-ups. Even his long shots retain an enigmatic quality, a factory in New Jersey appearing as a ghostly shimmer rising up from the river. “It’s dead, really,” Lynch says in the book. “You are witnessing a dead body and watching nature bring it back to the elements.”

  • Broken window theory

    Training as a painter, Lynch creates abstract art with some of his photographs. Geometric grids overlay external views in his Windows series. “Mondrian would go nuts,” says Lynch. “There’s all kinds of different things. There’s kind of rigid patterns and there’s all kinds of abstractions.”

  • Machine hum

    Machinery and the sounds of industry feature in Lynch’s films Eraserhead, The Elephant Man and Dune, and Lynch describes the sounds of the factories he has shot in his book The Factory Photographs. “There are some photos from an electrical factory that was still working. And there you hear the happy sound of machinery and generating electricity, lots of smoke and big sounds in a working factory, and that’s a beautiful music. But most of these that we went into, derelict ones, are very quiet, very, very quiet.”

  • Firing the imagination

    Everything from clogged pipes to smoking chimneys inspires Lynch. “It’s so beautiful what’s going on in these derelict factories,” he says. “They are like cathedrals.” The photographs speak of a deeply held passion: “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.”