Gregory Crewdson (Research point: Tableaux)

  images-1   The script asks me to do some research into Crewdson’s work and to reflect how his work relates to film and/or art. The internet search yields a lot of factual information about him, – my most interesting sources are texts from the galleries that exhibit his work ( Gagosian, the White Cube, Rogallery), museums (Kunstverein Hannover, Fotomuseum Winterthur) and interviews he gave (Der Spiegel, aperture) and information about Ben Shapiro’s documentary about Crewdson (Brief Encounters).Crewdson, born in Brooklyn in 1962, is a photographer and professor at Yale School of Arts. His photographs are elaborately staged scenes – tableaux –  from small town American life. In an interview with Alyssa Loh and Alma Vescovi he states“Since a photograph is frozen and mute, since there is no before and after, I don’t want there to be a conscious awareness of any kind of literal narrative. And that’s why I really try not to pump up motivation or plot or anything like that. I want to privilege the moment. That way, the viewer is more likely to project their own narrative onto the picture” (

imgres-1Crewdson’s images are full of unsettling atmospheres, leaving the viewer immediately wondering, what happened here – whether it is a woman in white underwear lying on a living room floor, staring at the ceiling, or a night scene with a car shining its headlights at  yet another woman standing in downcast position in front of it, while  two other women and two brown shopping bags, and a row of houses complete the picture.”Haunting, surreal and – most agree profoundly unnerving”is the way Loh and Vescovi describe Crewdson’s art. And they go on to state, (here our first hint at the connection to film) that production teams and set budgets for a single photographs can equal that of an entire film.                             The lighting stage direction in many of the pictures create this sense of the mysterious and evoke the world of Hollywood film scenes. The Whitecube gallery information localises the origin of Gregory Crewdson’s work“within a photographic tradition that combines the documentary style of William Eggleston and Walker Evans with the dream-like vision of filmmakers such as Stephen Spielberg and David Lynch. Crewdson’s method is equally filmich, building elaborate sets to take pictures of extraordinary detail and narrative portent.”

imgres Of all my sources I am most fascinated by an interview Gregory Crewdson gave the German
magazine “Spiegel online” in February 2014. Asked to elaborate on a comment Crewdson allegedly made that every photographer had one story to tell – with the emphasis on “one” he replies that he does not know what his story is: “If I knew that, I would not have to make pictures. In my head the story is  undefined and hazy – inscrutable. My urge to photograph arises from the urge to understand it”. The journalist interviewing devotes a good part of the talk to an investigation of the influence the fact that Crewdson’s father was a psychoanalyst  might be having on the kind of photography he is making. Crewdson readily acknowledges this interpretation of the journalist, commenting that “without doubt the fact that my father is an analyst is important for my outlook on the world. What I have taken from my father was this combination of distance and intimacy. My pictures show intimate moments, but from a distance” ( – translation mbd)                                                                                                                                     For me  it is the enigmatic composure of the scenes in combination with the obviously elaborate technical perfection of the execution and the cryptic content that provokes our imagination to create a “story” to each photograph that distinguishes this artist from other tableaux photographers.                                                                                                                                                                      To the Spiegel journalist’s comment that his work is often described as relating to films I find Crewdsons’s answer that it is stillness, the silence,  that distinguish photographs from films and that still pictures make more sense for him. “I think in still pictures and know how I have to read them….( When later in the extensive interview, he is asked to name a film that influenced his work most he mentions “Blue Velvet” by David Lynch, ” the attempt to lay bare something dark and uncanny”  making the deepest and most lasting impression for his work…)

tumblr_mczohcfeNa1qbo39mo4_500Although often irritated by tableaux photography I am intrigued by Gregory Crewdson’s work and hope to get hold of “Brief Encounter” – the documentary film made about him to find out more about the man and especially his way of making the haunting images he creates.

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