The emotional depth in Crewdson’s work is of a kind that depends almost completely on the viewer’s interpretation of the elaborate tableau image (see above). Another way of expressing this is that Crewdson’s photographs possess an ‘incompleteness’ (Banks, 2008). In making this point Banks remarks:
Vladimir Nabokov once noted that as the novel is to reality, movies are to the novel, i.e., a sharp reduction and simplification of the infinite plenitude of human existence. I might extend that equation and add that as the novel is to reality and movies are to the novel, photographs are to movies (Banks, 2008).
But, Banks suggests, Crewdson’s photograph’s, because of their property of incompleteness, are the exception to this progressive abstraction i.e. from reality, to the novel, to the movies to the photograph. Further, that:
Most photographs, even staged cinematographic photographs like those of the nineteenth-century Victorian Henry Peach Robinson, for example, or some of Crewdson’s near-contemporaries like Jeff Wall and Cindy Sherman, are complete (Banks, 2008).
Here an argument is being made that a quality (‘incompleteness’) distinguishes Crewdson’s work from other ‘staged cinematographic’ (above) photographers such as Jeff Wall and Philip-Lorca diCorcia. Could it be this quality that leads to the suggestion that Crewdson’s work ‘lacks the subtlety and nuance of Wall and diCorcia’s’ (see initial question above)?
Certainly diCorcia has written of his images that ‘there is no “plot”’ (diCorcia, s.d) and that:
the plot, as such, is generated by the realities at play at the moment, which include subjective states, objective observations, the interpretation of the sociopolitical dynamics at work AND the desire to give all these elements unprejudiced freedom from the predispositions that photography naturally creates (diCorcia, s.d).
DiCorcia also remarks that he wants ‘to remove photography’s biggest attraction – the offering of second hand experience’ (diCorcia, s.d). Looking now at a representative image of Crewdson’s, one from his series ‘Beneath the Roses’ (see fig. 1.), it can be seen to have those two qualities that diCorcia seeks to eschew, namely ‘plot’ in the cinematic sense, and also the particularly cinematic element of ‘the offering of second hand experience’ to the viewer, drawing them into the intense cinematic narrative of the image.
It is worth remembering with regard to documentary photography that:
… if narrative and storytelling help the spectator to make sense of the real, this sense is always biased, it reflects the strong editorial intervention of the maker and thus a veiling rather than an unveiling of reality. This deeply rooted distrust of narrative as an instrument of deception, manipulation, propaganda and spin-doctoring, is what bridges the gap between modernist and postmodernist forms of critical photography. What is different are the means that are used, what is similar is the goal. Modernist critical documentary, like the one illustrated by pioneers such as August Sander or Robert Capa, refused the crutch of storytelling in the hope of showing things as they were (Baetens, 2009).
Baetens goes on to suggest that:
Postmodern critical documentary, … exhibits and even exaggerates all setting, staging, re-enactment and storytelling devices, but in the hope of short-circuiting them (Baetens, 2009).
Baetens points out that both strategies are utopian:
modern critical photography can’t escape completely from storytelling, just as postmodern critical photography can’t block its narrative interpretations (Baetens, 2009).
In his work Gregory Crewdon does not try to ‘block its narrative interpretations’, in fact he encourages them and hence Banks’ (above) detection of the quality of ‘incompleteness’ in the work. This encouragement of narrative interpretations is less apparent in Wall and diCorcia and so they better meet the utopian ideal (above) of postmodern critical documentary of short-circuiting story telling devices. This success must necessarily lead to work that is more subtle and nuanced in its attempts to ‘unveil reality’ (above).
Baetens, Jan (2009) ‘The Creative Treatment of Narrative: A Poetics of the In-Between’ In: Theatres of the Real. Brighton: Photoworks. pp. 97 – 101.
Banks, Russell (2008) ‘Gregory Crewdson: Beneath the Roses’ In: Crewdson Beneath the Roses. New York: Harry N. Abrams. pp. 6 -10
diCorcia, Philip-Lorca (s.d) Reflections on Streetwork 1993-1997At: http://peterbaker.org/reflections-on-streetwork/ (Accessed on 07.05.15)
List of Illustrations
Figure 1. Crewdson, Gregory (2003-2008) Image #4 from Beneath the Roses. At: http://artblart.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/crewd-2003-2005-untitled-maple-street-web.jpg (Accessed on: 07.05.15)