A fresh haunting: Lynch, Burroughs and Warhol at The Photographers' Gallery

By Kirstie Brewer | 20 January 2014

Exhibition review: Lynch, Burroughs and Warhol, The Photographers’ Gallery, London, until March 30 2014

A black and white photo of a man in a hat standing outdoors carrying a camera
Unknown photographer, Burroughs in the Hotel Villa Mouniria Garden, Tangier. Scan from negative© Estate of William S Burroughs, Courtesy the William S Burroughs Estate
In trademark enigmatic style, David Lynch both looks back at a bygone era and evokes a dystopian future. Set in disused industrial complexes, the brooding black and white images are reminiscent of the filmmaker’s 1970s classic, Eraserhead.

Among the looming pylons, tanks and pipes is the same uneasy sense of foreboding. In fact, Lynch originally took photographs of factories when scouting for shooting locations, which explains why the images in this exhibition hold the potential for being the setting of a dark story.

They possess gritty realism – a grounded nightmare. A smoky shot of an old operating table is particularly sinister and fraught with suspense, as are those of darkened rooms with light flooding through broken windows.

Go down a floor in the lift and there is a body of work from William Boroughs, coinciding with the centenary of his birth. There are a number of images which, like Lynch’s, have no physical human presence – but they possess a haunting and unshakeable feeling of being watched.

There is a palpable tension between emptiness and freedom in his street scenes and still lives, while the collages and cut outs are weirdly self-contained and devoid of any reference to the work of other artists.

A lot don’t appear to be the finished article and they are often small and underwhelming. The thing the exhibition is most successful at is offering an insight into this writer’s artistic and creative processes.

Little-known offerings from Andy Warhol’s New York studio, The Factory round off the trio of American artists on display. Focusing on the last decade of his life, his images spark comparisons between value and neglect.

A lot of the shots are arguably as grim as Lynch’s but focus on the value we as human beings put on things – in a style that is unmistakably Warhol. There are grubby children playing among jumble at a flea market, depilated ice cream vans and people’s odd but treasured possessions.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure is the phrase that comes to mind. And then there are playful snaps capturing frivolous celebrity. Spontaneous and animated, they possess the ‘shoot now, see later’ nature of the sort of cameras of the era.

None of the artists in these simultaneous exhibitions are commonly defined by their photography – their legacies lie in other forms, from film to literature, via screen printing and pop art. In this way, exhibition goers are offered something which, if not truly illuminating, is genuinely fresh – a chance to rediscover this trio of cultural icons from a different perspective.

  • Open 10am-6pm (8pm Thursday, 11.30am-6pm Sunday). Admission £4/£2.50 (free for under-17s, free to all visitors all day Monday, Thursday 6pm-8pm). Follow the gallery on Twitter @TPGallery‎.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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Depilated ice cream vans. Interesting. I'd have over to see them when they were hairy.
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