David Lynch’s factory fantasyland

The renowned director talks about his lifelong love affair with photographing abandoned factories

Photography Q+A
David-Lynch
David Lynch Brad Elterman

Taken from the Spring 2014 issue of Dazed:

David Lynch’s factory photographs – now on show at The Photographers’ Gallery in London – reveal the great filmmaker’s lifelong fascination with abandoned industrial buildings. The architectural compositions echo his most revered work – think of the claustrophobic attack on domesticity in Eraserhead, the looming shacks of Twin Peaks, the vortex swirl of Mulholland Drive’s nightmarish party scene. The black-and-white stills depict menacing silhouettes, gutted interiors and billowing smokestacks, using blurred light and layered textures to stretch the possibilities of photography to their outer limits.

David Lynch, Untitled (Lodz), 20
David Lynch, Untitled (Lodz), 2000 Photography by David Lynch, Courtesy of The Photographer's Gallery

Dazed Digital: Why are you so attracted to abandoned factories?

David Lynch: I’ve had a love affair for a long time with factories and industry – primarily the smokestack industry. I love all the textures associated with it. It’s so much about the beautiful light and shapes.  

DD: When you enter them, is it like walking on to the set of one of your own movies?

David Lynch: No, I don’t think I’ve ever shot a scene in factories like these. It’s an incredible mood. I feel like I’m in a place that’s just magical, where nature is reclaiming these derelict factories. It’s very dreamy. Every place you turn, there’s something so sensational and surprising – it’s the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour.

“The world of Eraserhead was inspired by Philadelphia, a bit of an industrial city. I fell in love with Philadelphia for its architecture and mood. But now all the cities are looking more and more the same. The real treasures are going away”

DDIs the world of these factories akin to that of Eraserhead and Mulholland Drive?

David Lynch: Yes. Every film has its story. It has to be a certain place, with a certain light, with certain things said by certain people. Then you make a world in cinema that didn’t exist before. The world of Eraserhead was inspired by Philadelphia, a bit of an industrial city. I fell in love with Philadelphia for its architecture and mood. But now all the cities are looking more and more the same. The real treasures are going away; the mood they create is going away. Graffiti is one of the worst things that ever happened to a city. 

DD: Do you have a favourite from the series?

David Lynch: I love all of them. But again, it’s the mood, shapes and textures – it’s something that thrills my soul. The way the light can fall on a factory is the same way the light can fall on a body. One slight turn of the light and it’s a brand new thing. It just keeps going on and on and on. 

DD: Why did you choose to shoot photographs of these factories versus a film?

David Lynch: Every medium is its own thing and is infinitely deep. And there’s a connection, obviously, between cinema and still photography. For me, still photography was born out of cinema, but a still is just one frame that pulls you deeper and deeper in. It’s about the beauty of one image.

“In north England, I was in search of what I was told would be the greatest factories. The time I was up there, they were destroying one smokestack every week. 
All the factories were being torn down. It was a nightmare for me. I couldn’t believe it”

DD: Is the disused industrial aesthetic being forgotten today?

David Lynch: It’s disappearing. In north England, I was in search of what I was told would be the greatest factories. The time I was up there, they were destroying one smokestack every week.
All the factories were being torn down. It was a nightmare for me. I couldn’t believe it. I missed them by just a couple of years. 

DD: The photos resonate with a kind of veiled terror. Is the exploration of good and evil important to you?

David Lynch: No, but there’s a certain amount of fear connected to industry for me. As a child, I grew up in the northwest of America, where there weren’t any giant factories, none of that mood. But my mother was from Brooklyn, so we visited my grandparents a lot, and there it was a whole different story. I got a big fear of subways and the certain smell of a city. Sometimes these factories capture some of that. But mostly, it’s a kind of beauty connected to fire and smoke, steel, concrete, glass and all kinds of incredible machine parts. And nature reclaiming them. The whole thing is a dance. And it’s beautiful to be in that dance, photographing it.

David Lynch, Untitled (England),
David Lynch, Untitled (England) Photography by David Lynch, Courtesy of The Photographer's Gallery

DD: Does nature reclaiming industry have to do with the failure of technology?

David Lynch: It has to do with change. Those factories have served their purpose. What’s happening now are smaller, more efficient, less dreamy things that don’t have the same feel of power and majesty. It’s a little depressing. But I do like contemporary mixtures too. 

DD: Can you choose one image in the world that really gets under your skin?

David Lynch: Naked women. The human body is very special, and throughout time people have been painting and photographing it, and there’s a reason for that.

DD: Anything to add?

David Lynch: Everybody’s different. So when someone steps in front of a photograph, it’s a unique experience they’re having. It doesn’t matter what the photographer or filmmaker says. The work has to speak to the people. 

David Lynch: The Factory Photographs runs until 30 March at The Photographer's Gallery

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