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

Yes, Crewdson undoubtedly succeeds in this by means of his use of lighting, colour and composition. The lighting is cinematic and leaves the viewer in no doubt that the scene is staged. Perhaps a better word to describe the looking at a Crewdson image is ‘witnessing’, because there is a sense of something that has happened or is just about to happen. What that something is is never made clear, there is never a straightforward cause and effect relationship in evidence. This absence forces the imagination of the viewer to engage with the composition. This combination of strong composition and imaginative interpretation adds up the images being described as ‘psychological’.  Thus an American critic can say of Crewdson’s work:

He’s digging through the ruins of 5.00 A.M., excavating the dark, mouldering remnants of Ronald Regan’s sunlit morning in America; he’s mapping and measuring the tumbled down cellar walls of our New Jerusalem, our City on a Hill, our New World, everything that, almost before we the people were born, got corrupted and shoddy and old so fast and turned the American dream into the American nightmare. And like any nightmare, his pictures seem to have no beginning or end (Banks, 2008).

An example of the psychological nature of the compositions is the image ‘Untitled (Ophelia), 2001’ (see fig. 1.). Crewdson when interviewed says of this photograph:

That was an image that captivated me for years, I can’t quite say why, but at some point I moved forward with that image and we built a living room in a sound stage … (Gregory Crewdson’s Photo Alchemy, 2006).

In this same interview Crewdson says of the photograph ‘Untitled (north by northwest)’ (see fig. 2):

What I’m very, very interested in is a moment that hovers between the before and after, a moment that is unresolved … and necessarily the ultimate meaning needs to remain a mystery for myself or else it wouldn’t be as interesting (Gregory Crewdson’s Photo Alchemy, 2006).

Perhaps the image that is most clearly psychological in nature is ‘Untitled, 2001’ (see fig.3.), which shows parts of a house in cross section and a young man with his arm pushed below the floor boards seeking to find something. Crewdson and others have discussed this image in relation to the fact that Crewdson’s father was a psychoanalyst who worked from a clinic attached to the family home so that growing up Crewdson was acutely aware of the existence of unseen psychological terrain, and that there were methods available to traverse it (for example see Gregory Crewdson’s Photography Capturing a Movie Frame, 2012).


Banks, Russell (2008) ‘Gregory Crewdson: Beneath the Roses’ In: Crewdson Beneath the Roses.  New York: Harry N. Abrams. pp. 6 -10

Gregory Crewdson’s Photo Alchemy, [online] NPR (2006), 7 mins At: http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=5157819&m=5157872 (Accessed on: 28.04.15)

Gregory Crewdson’s Photography Capturing a Movie Frame [online] You Tube (2012), 27 mins At: https://youtu.be/S7CvoTtus34 (Accessed on: 23.04.15)

List of Illustrations

Figure 1. Crewdson, Gregory (2001) Untitled (Ophelia) At: http://media.npr.org/programs/day/features/2006/jan/crewdson/blurb200_lg-c86b253cd252456191738775d4761b69ee969203.jpg (Accessed on: 28.04.15)

Figure 2. Crewdson, Gregory (2001) Untitled (north by northwest) At: http://media.npr.org/programs/day/features/2006/jan/crewdson/car_lg-b47e1a2f56d59fd0cf73976d398f0c4f2d27fa3c.jpg (Accessed on: 28.04.15)

Figure 3. Crewdson, Gregory (2001) Untitled, 2001 At: http://gagosian.vaesite.net/__data/909d8622e98277ab6e441c2c2ac08519.jpg (Accessed on: 28.04.15)