American Invasion: Lynch, Burroughs, and Warhol at The Photographers’ Gallery

The Photographers’ Gallery celebrates three iconic artistic talents from the good old US of A with their current trio of exhibitions: David Lynch: The Factory PhotographsTaking Shots: The Photography of William S. Burroughs, and Andy Warhol: Photographs 1976- 1987.  

David Lynch, Untitled (England), late 1980s early 1990s

David Lynch, Untitled (England), late 1980s early 1990s

The three shows spawn from a singular simple concept: revealing the often unknown photographic escapades of artists famed for work in other mediums. The top floor houses a series by cult film director David Lynch. Factory Photographs is a collection of melancholy portraits of industrial degeneration and decay. The relationship between these images and Lynch’s cinematic work is obvious. The graphic gothic aesthetic stays true to his renowned style, with the peeling walls and darkened doorways looking like sets that could have appeared in Eraserhead (1977) or The Elephant Man (1980). Taken over a number of decades in disused factories across the world, the luscious black and white photos use high contrast to emphasis the atmosphere, and allow the industrial architecture to be appreciated in terms of line and form. They tell a compelling story of the abandoned man-made being reclaimed by nature’s irrepressible forces.

David Lynch, Untitled (Lodz), 2000

David Lynch, Untitled (Lodz), 2000

Burroughs’ work is an entirely different experience. His variety of projects are much like his literature: erratic and experimental, with a hint of rebellion. The work is diverse in both subject matter and style, giving the impression of a man with a constant compulsion to create. Burroughs was surprisingly productive for a notorious heroin addict, constantly finding new ways to interpret and recontextualise the photographic image. One such technique shown here was devised alongside his artist friend Ian Sommerville: Burroughs pursued the idea of presenting all his photographs in a single shot, and consequently using collage and mirrors they created the infinity technique. The results are strangely mesmerising and, excuse the drug vocabulary, a little trippy. Burroughs frequent use of the collage follows on from the trends he employed in his written work. Much like his cut-up technique (rearranging prose to create a new text) he uses photography to dissect the world and reassemble it in a much more psychologically expressive way.

William Burroughs/Ian Sommerville, Infinity, Paris (Beat Hotel), 1962 © Estate of William S.

William Burroughs/Ian Sommerville, Infinity, Paris (Beat Hotel), 1962 © Estate of William S.
Burroughs

William S. Burroughs, Untitled, 1975 © Estate of William S. Burroughs

William S. Burroughs, Untitled, 1975 © Estate of William S. Burroughs

The third course of this American feast is provided by one of the 20th century’s most celebrated artists. Andy Warhol is the most famous exhibitor here and his photographic work is also the most well known. His love of the camera was well documented and photographs played a major role in his creative processes. Warhol’s images have been published in numerous books (several of which are on show here) and many of his most famous artworks incorporate original or found photographic images.  Warhol used this cheap technology like a notebook. His images provide an interesting insight into the life of this icon and the vibrant bohemian world he inhabited. Warhol’s camera was a great equaliser, with celebrities and ice cream trucks proving equally enticing. Like Burroughs, Warhol also strove to use photographs in new and interesting ways. His stitched photographs feature four copies of a single shot sewn together (not by his own hand: employing the production ethos from The Factory, he hired others for this task). Warhol’s work is interesting, but a little overshadowed by the myth of the man behind them. It is difficult to separate the work from the reputation.

Young Man Holding a Glass 1976-1987, ©2014 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York & DACS, London. Courtesy FAIF Collection/gallery focus 21

Andy Warhol, Young Man Holding a Glass 1976-1987, ©2014 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York & DACS, London. Courtesy FAIF Collection/gallery focus 21

Andy Warhol, Gay Pride 1976-1987, © 2014 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York & DACS, London. Courtesy FAIF Collection/gallery focus 21

Andy Warhol, Gay Pride 1976-1987, © 2014 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York & DACS, London. Courtesy FAIF Collection/gallery focus 21

These exhibitions are a must see for any existing fans of the artists and they add a welcome extra dimension to these already well respected creative names. The exhibition may have come about because of their pre-existing fames, but the work on display here is worthy in its own right.

Lynch, Burroughs, and Warhol runs from January 17th to March 30th at The Photographers’ Gallery, London.

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by Stacey Harbour
in Focus on Europe

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