By Nat Lucas

“A room is, say, 9 by 12, but when you’re introducing sound to it, you can create a space that’s giant, hearing things outside the room or feeling certain through a vent, and then there are abstract sounds that are like music. They give emotions and different moods.” (David Lynch 1999)

It may seem counterintuitive to take an auditory approach to a photographic exhibition, but as the artist under consideration is David Lynch, stepping off the travelator of convention seems acceptable. Heard in isolation, the ‘multichannel sound composition by the artist,’ could be described as the noise that your brain blots out in the course of everyday experience. Loosely pulsating brass drones are layered with occasional octaves, fifths and harmonics in the upper frequencies. We hear wind across open pipes interspersed with the chippings and banging of hot and cold metal. This is the sound of the shadow of an industrial age. It is the music of everything that has been cancelled.

This soundscape frames Lynch’s uniformly sized, monochrome images perfectly. In true cinematic fashion it provides another dimension to the mise en scène he presents of decaying abandoned factories. Those familiar with his films (such as ‘Eraserhead’ and ‘Dune’) will not be surprised to learn that he began to take these pictures while scouting locations for film shoots. With this exhibition what was previously a backdrop becomes the focus of attention, the used up factories now take the lead roles in creating an atmosphere of tension.

This is a post-industrialist landscape embodied in a range of locations such as Lodz, Berlin, New York and Northern England. Husks and kernels of buildings decay, their walls rupture and forgotten sills are covered in debris. One door opens onto darkness while another gapes onto an unspoken void. Obsolete machines cling to walls with twisted edges like sordid metal lips. Skylights are distant, always out of reach. Nature scurries to wild the ruins and reclaim the ground. Human life has been deleted. 

Eight photographs form a study of glass panes, all either shattered, vicious toothed or absent. The window frames bring to mind rhythms of Mondrian squares but somehow in the negative. Only where panes are missing can we see a few stark twigs gesturing upwards. 

Three works “Untitled (England) late 1980s early 1990s,” provide an alternative to the heavy shadows of the rest of the exhibition. Here pylons stride across electricity farms and bulbous smoke stacks still breathe (above). Lynch managed to chase around the North barely a wisp ahead of the demolition crews. Within the frames there is space for a glimpse of a green, though less than entirely pleasant, land. Industry is dwindling but has not yet been fully disassembled.

In his Darwin College Lecture ‘Life in Ruins,’ the writer Robert Macfarlane suggests, “Ruins offer niches for narrative.” The ‘Factory Photographs’ offer a palimpsest narrative where industry is being overwritten by nature. The story is one of a shifting population and a change of power. As Lynch remarks, “Every work ‘talks’ to you, and if you listen to it, it will take you places you never dreamed of.” 

David Lynch: The Factory Photographs at the Photographers’ Gallery to 30th March 2014.

Photograph: Image 2, David Lynch, Untitled (England), late 1980s/early 1990s.
Archival gelatin-silver print. 11 x 14 inches. All photographs in an edition of 11. © Collection of the artist.

posted in: Read, See
Tags: , , ,

by TOAST ( 06.02.14 )


The fourth in a series of pieces written to photographs taken by Nicholas James Seaton on our autumn/winter 2013 shoot in Canada. Each focuses on an element, albeit a non-traditional kind.

By Nat Lucas.

Where once slipped burnished reflections in silver-grey, the flash of a passing express or arrows of geese rising up from the river, now laps the canker of rust. Bound unwillingly on steel framed beds these colours chime with autumn hues and vie to shrug their spore onto a careless passing sleeve. Illustrious names weep together – burnt orange, yellow ochre and cadmium red, shackled in a mottled bruise.   

Derricks gaze sightlessly into water; shoulders hunched against the bite like king penguins taking turns at the edge of an ice locked huddle. Cold chilled they sweat and wait, mustered at the command of ghost squads of stevedores. Hamstrung by rust they will swing and hoist no more.

Exposure hastens the rasping tongue of corrosion, the weakening flakes and slow dull notes of fatigue. Singing cables whipping above the festooned pier turn brittle when the bulbs go out and folds of litter bag the shore. Emasculated rivets drop unheard from the underbelly of the pontoon.

The transcendent form of Hart Crane’s The Bridge (1930) seems the stuff of fables from these bashed and fettered sheets:


“And Thee, across the harbour, silver-paced

As though the sun took step of thee, yet left

Some motion ever unspent in thy stride, -”


The manufacturing heartland is strapped into a rust belt. Pounding, flaming cities shrink to arid necropolises for machine tools stripped of salvageable parts. Rust blooms over conical towers, the past proud spires of factory husks, while vegetation hastens to reclaim old ground. Crowds shuttle in to stare toothlessly at the ruins. ‘Decay tourism’ has set up its stall. 

Metal memories are embedded in each one of these thousand shallow rough bubbles. Darker stains describe the best of times. Tremulous chariots for three point turns, mobile sanctuary for courting teens, are stacked wrecked shadows. Worn out, but held in fond regard, weathered in human harness unlike those cloud bothering, plunging elevatored monoliths.

To read the other pieces in our Element series, click here.

Excerpt from The Bridge by Hart Crane 1899 – 1932. Published 1930, Black Sun Press.

posted in: Read
Tags: , , ,

by TOAST ( 07.10.13 )

Nat Lucas.

It is difficult to imagine Orlando Gough entering into anything without total enthusiasm. His full steam ahead approach to life gathers you up in his wake – whether he is discussing cooking, a new rap artist or in this case, the day of events that he has curated for the ‘Voices Across the World’ festival at the Royal Opera House (commissioned by its contemporary arm ROH2). At the heart of the day are twelve of his favourite singers…

posted in: Read
Tags: , , ,

by TOAST ( 19.07.11 )

Nat Lucas discovers how time moves differently on a late summer row down the Thames.

The sky is an ink wash of gunmetal grey, silver and indigo. Swollen with rain it dips down to meet the water; the willows mutter in the rising breeze. Two men pass by on a working barge, a patchwork of black with a shock of exhaust. They raise their hands and nod in greeting as they overtake. They have watched our progress for the last twenty minutes on a straight avenue of the river. We rest and balance our oars on the water for steadiness as their wake slaps against our boards. Then the rain comes…

posted in: Read
Tags: , ,

by TOAST ( 14.09.10 )
preload preload preload