Published on February 10, 2014 | by Rosie Atkin0
See 20th century US culture at The Photographers’ Gallery
The Photographers’ Gallery offers up a triple treat of works from three figureheads of 20th century American culture. On display are the photographic works of David Lynch, William S.Burroughs, and Andy Warhol – artists not necessarily associated with the practice.
David Lynch: Factory Photographs sits at the top of the staircase; for those who opted not to take the lift, this brooding compilation acts as an interesting reward.
The collection details Lynch’s preoccupation with the ghostly worlds that exist in abandoned industrial factories.
Cinematic and dark, Lynch’s recognisable interest for eeriness seeps into the composition of each black and white photograph.
Plumes of smoke, rusting pipes, and sooty clouds loom over decaying brickwork, with silhouettes, shadows, the sheen of rain reflected on out-of-use machines – all ingredients of an iconic Lynch film.
It is as if we have gained access to the research process of this enigmatic titan of the film industry; a seeming insight into his film work.
Lynch gathered his factory photographs in locations such as Berlin, London and New York, reflecting the unknown and barren wastelands of each city.
His taste for detail is found in each considered image, and we follow him as he peers through foggy windowpanes and smashed glass; we stare down cracks and crevices with him only to find oil and sludge.
The sole criticism to offer is that the repetitively dark beauty wears thin after a while – each individually stunning photograph devalues the next and begins to blur into one identical image.
One can only stare at pylons, boiler towers and borstal-like barbed wire for so long.
A gallery transformed
Stepping downstairs reveals quite a contrast to the slick, stylised factory world left behind.
Taking shots: The photography of William S.Burroughs is a gallery transformed into the visual diary of the novelist’s life.
Known for literary works such as Junky and Naked Lunch, Burroughs was a vital member of the Beat Generation.
But here we see Burroughs as photographer – an experimental mind fizzing with ideas, prolific in every sense.
It is a far more immediate and raw body of work than that of Lynch, with a diverse range of subjects, stimuli and styles. Portraiture, landscapes, photojournalism; you name it, Burroughs will have dabbled with it.
A New York Car Accident is a venture into photojournalistic documentation.
The images are clear and precise, visually describing the absolute moment of action. His curious nature and attention to detail is reminiscent of the beat writing style, never missing a moment.
In the series Infinity Photographs, experimental kaleidoscopic photo-collages reflect the artist’s periods of experimentation.
Likewise, in What Was, What Isn’t we see rumpled sheets and stains where Burroughs attempted to capture the before and after of a sexual encounter – a reflection of his fascination with the boundaries of image making and how to push them.
Intimate portraits of close friends, lovers, and collaborators bring some serenity to the entanglement of styles within the collection.
Some are carefully considered portraits – Harold Norse combined the ‘cut-up technique’ of Burroughs’ infinity photographs with the traditional portrait – and others are simply natural mementos.
A life on exhibition
Taking shots… is, in short, a life on exhibition, a sprawling display of the inner-workings of a true creative. Burroughs’ photography, which sadly was rarely acknowledged in his lifetime, is allowed to stand alone from his literary fame here.
The final layer of this sandwich exhibition is Andy Warhol: Photographs 1976-1987.
It’s rare to see work by Warhol that isn’t the polished and printed end product of universal culture.
Instead, Warhol’s photographs allow us to peer into a visual backlog of what he was drawn to during his career, offering a natural contrast to the usual pop-art binge.
But don’t worry, these photos are still so very Warhol.
Photographs of his glamorous social circle are raw and unprocessed, but it is his repeated prints which are most recognisable; advertisements, packaging, and products of the manufactured commercial world which he was characteristically drawn to are heavily featured in his photographic work.
Untitled: (Items on the pantry shelf) depicts iconic and recognisable food products, eliciting feelings of consumerist comfort; Hellman’s mayonnaise, Uncle Ben’s sauces, and Heinz are just a few on display.
These repeated print photographs have me wondering: Did Warhol see the world as a repeated series?
Regardless of the style – cinematic and slick or sketchy and raw – each individual exhibition offers another dimension to these renowned artists.
Each is a rare insight into the life behind the professional, and an opportunity not to be missed.