David Lynch’s Photos Of Abandoned Factories Are Just As Haunting As His Films

The director of surreal masterpieces like Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive has released his first book of photography, The Factory Photographs, and it’s every bit as unsettling as you’d expect.

Avant-garde film director David Lynch is known for his singular ability to turn the seemingly banal into the surreal and disturbing. The director of Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks even managed to make the usually wholesome act of cooking quinoa subtly terrifying in a recent instructional video. He channels this unsettling power again in The Factory Photographs, his first book of photography, selections from which are now on view at The Photographers’ Gallery in London.


Shot in Berlin, Poland, New York, New Jersey, and England from 1980 to 2000, these 80 black-and-white images depict desolate industrial landscapes without a human soul in sight. “There was a line down the street at the exhibition’s opening,” curator Petra Giloy-Hirtz tells Co.Design. “These photographs have such an amazing resonance–an otherworldly wasteland atmosphere, a dreamy kind of mood.” Giloy-Hertz was surprised to learn from a friend that Lynch had two decades worth of unpublished photographs he’d taken while roaming around abandoned factories. When she contacted him about publishing them in a book and accompanying exhibition, he was enthusiastic. Lynch started out as a painter before moving into film, and the Mondrian-like lines and grids in industrial architecture take on a poetic abstraction in these images.

These abandoned structures haunt like ghosts of the Industrial Era, usurped by speedier technologies and sleeker, glassier designs. Many of them have been demolished since Lynch photographed them, according to Giloy-Hertz.

“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,” Lynch writes in the book. This obsession is obvious these photographs, as well as in films like the twisted Eraserhead and The Elephant Man.

“I just like going into strange worlds. A lot more happens when you open yourself up to the work and let yourself act and react to it,” Lynch says in the exhibit’s release. The director is a practitioner and vocal proponent of Transcendental Meditation, and his talent for tapping into murky realms of the unconscious, channeling dream (and nightmare) states, shines darkly through in these photographs, as in his films. “Every work ‘talks’ to you, and if you listen to it, it will take you places you never dreamed of,” he promises, with a touch of his trademark creepiness, seeing as those places will be shady and claustrophobic, filled with crumbling bricks and the stench of smog.

David Lynch: The Factory Photographs is on view at the Photographers’ Gallery in London until March 30. The book, published by Prestel, is available for $44 here.

About the author

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering art and design. Follow her on Twitter.