Research point – Gregory Crewdson

Part 5 of the course contained a research note link for a video on Gregory Crewdson. Unfortunately, the link is no longer working, but there are several other videos available online commenting Crewdson’s work. For these notes, in addition to looking at Crewdson’s photographs in his webpage at Gagosian (1), I watched the videos “Gregory Crewdson: In a lonely place” (2) and “BOMB on the Scene: Gregory Crewdson” (3). The first was a general talk by Crewdson, while the second one focused on his work “Sanctuary”, where he photographed an old film set in Rome, Italy. I had already previously researched Crewdson’s work and my initial notes can be found here.

  • Do you think there is more to this work than aesthetic beauty?

There is no doubt that part of the attraction of Crewdson’s “film set photography” (4) work is the way all the elements in his images combine to create at least an initial aesthetic response, a “pull factor”. One of the first photographs I remember seeing from him was his Untitled (Sunday Roast) (link) from the series Beneath the Roses. The way the characters are arranged, the lighting and framing all draw you to the centre of the picture, where the narrative takes place. If one keeps looking at this, even only for a short period time, one comes to the conclusion that what is displayed is highly contrived, unnatural. This sets in motion a desire to understand the meaning of what is shown, something that perhaps does not happen when you look at a still of unaltered reality. Many of Crewdson’s photographs have a dream-like, surreal quality to them (see for instance this and this). As they dispense with the burden of representing reality, these photographs must be about something else. In some cases, one can clearly see references to solitude, estrangement and a desire to escape, but in many other photographs what is depicted is perhaps too close to the photographer’s heart to allow the viewer to make a clear connection. In being too ambiguous, the experience with some of these images is primarily limited to the aesthetic, which can be a bit of a drag, as visual elements tend to be repeated (for instance, people standing still with their arms down, either looking through something, or being looked at through something, as in here, here and here)

  • Do you think Crewdson succeeds in making his work ‘psychological’? What does this mean?

Crewdson seems to suggest that in his process, images come to his mind and then he sets about to recreate them, either in a soundstage or on location. There does not seem to be any story behind the photographs, as he himself suggest at the beginning of the video “BOMB on the Scene: Gregory Crewdson” (3), where he mentions that “…I do not really think about what happens…” (5). But the fact that the situations are entirely imagined does not make them psychological, in the sense that it does not necessarily evokes or depicts a state of mind. It is true that in many of Crewdson photographs the characters are like in a suspended state of animation, trapped by a persistent thought or in a dream (see for instance here or here), but often it is hard to connect with what these characters are going through. Other than a sense of isolation or melancholia in some cases, provided by the context or the facial expressions, I get the feeling that these photographs attempt to portray characters groing through some “psychological” state but what that is can escape the spectator.

  • What is your main goal when making pictures? Do you think there’s anything wrong with making beauty your main goal? Why or why not

There is absolutely nothing wrong with making attractive pictures. As a matter of fact, the aesthetics of an image is probably essential to establishing that initial connection. Without something drawing our attention, which in principle has to be something visual, it is impossible to engage with a photograph, in my opinion. But a picture without a purpose, other than the attractive arrangement of its elements, is likely to be passed over quickly, and may even fade away completely once its style, innovative at first, becomes widely imitated. When I started my studies at OCA, most of my photographs were about an aesthetic response. I joined this course with the intention of building something beyond that, something that hopefully would allow me to create images rather than just take them. That does not necessarily mean that I want to dedicate myself to the genre of tableaux, like Gregory Crewdson’s, but it entails taking photographs with a purpose, with an objective that is well thought-out beforehand.

___________________________

(1) Gagosian. 2018. Gregory Crewdson at Gagosian. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.gagosian.com/artists/gregory-crewdson. [Accessed 09 June 2018].

(2) Vimeo. 2018. Gregory Crewdson: In a Lonely Place on Vimeo. [ONLINE] Available at: https://vimeo.com/49665029. [Accessed 09 June 2018].

(3) Vimeo. 2018. BOMB on the Scene: Gregory Crewdson on Vimeo. [ONLINE] Available at: https://vimeo.com/15162784. [Accessed 09 June 2018].

(4) By this I mean his series where he has used large film crews, soundstages, props and lighting arrangements to create pictures, such as “Beneath the Roses” (link) and “Cathedral of the Pines” (link)

(5)  Vimeo. 2018. BOMB on the Scene: Gregory Crewdson on Vimeo. [ONLINE] Available at: https://vimeo.com/15162784. [Accessed 09 June 2018]. Min 0:31

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