Gregory Crewdson is an American photographer who photographs his own creations. He brings in the props, sets the scene, adjusts the lighting, positions the actors, and then takes the shot. He shoots at twilight and his exposures are long, maybe around thirty seconds.
There’s nothing particularly unusual in that description, and many photographers do this.
What is unusual is the scale on which he does it. In this one there is a school bus overturned on a suburban street with kids sitting and standing dazed (or something else?) around it.
In this one a woman standing imobile in the rain on a street and behind her a car stationary and askew with its door open and a person sitting in it – also immobile. There’s a drama there, but what is it that’s going on? There are all kinds of possibilities.
These are big scenes, with parts of the scene carefully picked out and highlighted with big lights, streets sprayed with rain from a machine, with assistants and maybe the police or fire service on hand.
What is going on in these scenes? What’s the story? It’s plain that there is a story – and that’s what (as Martin Parr might say) makes them photographs.
If there is nothing going on in a photo – if it’s just a rendition of people or things with nothing to prompt an enquiry in the mind of the viewer – then he would say it’s not a photograph.
Well, of course not all photographs ‘have’ to be like that. No one has the authority to say what is or is not a photograph. But a ‘good’ photograph? Something worth photographing in that way in the first place?
I guess that Gregory Crewdson would be delighted if he was out walking one evening and came across a scene of a man up to his waist in a hole he has dug in the floor of his garage, with a woman in a nightdress standing there watching.
Snap, and he has his photo. Or would he hold back, as many of us do – because we don’t want to intrude where we are probably, possibly, not wanted?
His most recent collection of works is Cathedral of the Pines.
In every photo there is a backdrop of a pine forest. The human actors are isolated, small, and generally not OK; the forest is big and OK.
The Photographers’ Gallery in London
I didn’t know when I would get to the chance to see Crewdson’s photographs in a gallery – but The Photographers’ Gallery in London have his latest work (Cathedral of the Pines) on show until 8th October, so I grabbed the chance. Oh it is wonderful being only 50 minutes away from London and being able to decide to go and just go.
The exhibition is on three floors and maybe 12 photographs to a floor, so lots to see.
His works are big. I should have measured them while I was there – but say four feet across.
And being in a gallery, I felt like taking this photo here below, attracted to the scene of the people framed by the light area beyond the room I was in.
But of course, it’s just a snap – there’s nothing going on apart from the light – no story. I guess one could work hard to generate curiosity, but it’s not a photograph that causes curiosity to bubble up. Maybe that bubbling up of curiosity is something of my own definition of a photograph that interests me.
I said that the human actors in Cathedral of the Pines are small and generally not OK. That’s true in most of the photographs. Actually though, in a couple of the interior scenes the person standing there is too big. It is as though he has pasted slightly outsize people into the scenes.
A woman stands in the kitchen. She fills the height of the room – not obviously so, but with just a touch of Alice down the rabbit hole. I wonder whether Crewdson ‘fixed’ the rooms to bring out that surreal feeling?