Question: Do you think there is more to this work than aesthetic beauty?
Gregory Crewdson (b. 1962) says of his work that:
For me, first and foremost is to make a beautiful picture, but if it’s a purely aesthetic experience it is not good enough, …it needs to be undercut with something psychological, or dangerous, desirous or fearful (Gregory Crewdson’s Photography Capturing a Movie Frame, 2012).
So a different way of asking the above question is: does Crewdson succeed in his aim to add more to his work than aesthetic beauty? The word most often associated with Crewdson’s photographs is ‘cinematic’, and a look at even a small sample of his work makes this attribution understandable (for example see fig. 1. and 2.). The critic David Travis said of Garry Winogrand’s photographs:
Sometimes they are mere sight gags: at other times they are extraordinary scenes that the most gifted film director could hardly have imagined on his own. The world for Winogrand was too chaotic to comprehend fully, but too rich to reinvent as small , dumb staged events (Travis, 2003: 91)
Crewdson’s work stands in opposition to this description of Winogrand’s practice . Each photograph in any series is a scene from Crewdson’s imagination that has been elaborately staged using lighting techniques most often associated with cinema, and that require large crews (up to forty people). The resulting photographs are rich in detail, and display the ambiguity and drama of the American everyday; there are ‘ideas of beauty, sadness, alienation, and desire’ alongside ‘something that speaks of hope’ (Banks, 2008). Contributing to this sense is the fact that the pictures do not hide the fact that they are staged, it is something that the viewer is immediately aware of and this property distinguishes Crewdson’s practice from other tableaux artists, for example Jeff Wall. A comparison of Jeff Wall’s ‘Mimic’ (Wall, 1982; see fig. 3.) with Crewdson’s ‘Untitled’ (Crewdson, 2004; see fig 4.) clearly illustrates this difference.
In light of the above it is not surprising that Crewdson has named the artist Edward Hopper (b. 1882) as among his influences (Crewdson, 2008). In this regard the painting by Hopper titled ‘Gas’ (Hopper, 1940; see fig. 5.) is worth considering:
A dusk covered road curves into dark woods. There’s just a solitary guy there, doing something to one of the red pump. He looks as if he’s about to close everything down for the night – it doesn’t seem likely anyone will come by at this hour. But something, surely, has just happened or is about to happen. That’s the thing about Hopper: anything can happen, especially nothing (Dyer, 2005: 196).
Although the critic above does not reference Crewdson in his discussion of Hopper’s influence on American photographers, nevertheless it is easily appreciated that people in Hopper’s and Crewdson’s images share the state of being ‘stranded between moments’ (Dyer, 2005: 198), and that Crewdson shares Hopper’s fondness for what he called ‘in-between moments’ (Dyer, 2005: 199). This property among many others gives to Crewdson’s often complex work something more that aesthetic beauty.
Banks, Russell (2008) ‘Gregory Crewdson: Beneath the Roses’ In: Crewdson Beneath the Roses. New York: Harry N. Abrams. pp. 6 -10
Crewdson, Gregory (2008) ‘Under the Influence’ In: Aperture 190 pp. 78 -89
Dyer, Geoff (2005) The Ongoing Moment. London: Vintage
Gregory Crewdson’s Photography Capturing a Movie Frame [online] You Tube (2012), 27 mins At: https://youtu.be/S7CvoTtus34 (Accessed on: 23.04.15)
Travis, David (2003) At the Edge of the Light. Thoughts on Photography and Photographers, on Talent and Genius. Boston: David R. Godine
List of Illustrations
Figure 1. Crewdson, Gregory (2003-2005) untitled from the series “Beneath the Roses” At: https://files.nyu.edu/jp1961/public/images/gregory-crewdson1.jpg (Accessed on: 23.04.15)
Figure 2. Crewdson, Gregory (2003-2005) untitled from the series “Beneath the Roses” At: https://files.nyu.edu/jp1961/public/images/gregory-crewdson-19.jpg (Accessed on: 23.04.15)
Figure 3. Wall, Jeff (1982) Mimic. At: http://images.tate.org.uk/sites/default/files/styles/grid-normal-8-cols/public/images/jeff%20wall%20mimic.jpg?itok=qtALRBSR (Accessed on: 23.04.15)
Figure 4. Crewdson, Gregory (2004) Untitled. At: https://www.artsy.net/artwork/gregory-crewdson-untitled-46 (Accessed on: 23.04.15)
Figure 5. Hopper, Edward (1940) Gas [oil on canvas] At: http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=80000 (Accessed on: 23.04.15)