There are currently three different features on Gregory Crewdson in the media right now–not counting reviews of his new show at Luhring Augustine. There’s an art/human interest piece in New York magazine, an essay in Aperture redacted from a talk given by Crewdson about his influences, and an interview with Crewdson online at the Aperture website. This is a good opportunity to compare three different kinds of photographic journalism:
My biggest issue–which rubs me the wrong way immediately–is the tagline, “Gregory Crewdson’s singular approach.” Add to that this frustrating sentence: “Crewdson’s method of photography is highly unusual; he has not taken a picture all by himself for the past ten years, save the occasional snapshot of his kids.” Really? He has a team that helps set up pictures with him? How unique! Maybe he should let portrait, fashion, and even other high-art photographers know about the advantages of this groundbreaking approach. I’m sure it could revolutionize all those fields, which are dominated by lone photographers, roaming the streets in search of the decisive moment.
There’s no doubt that Crewdson’s style is singular and highly identifiable, and few photographers enter small communities with as many assistants and invasive equipment. But the New York article seems to be written by someone who either has very little knowledge of contemporary photographic trends or very little interest in conveying that information to the masses. This is especially puzzling because a quick search of the writers’ previous pieces shows that she has a lot of experience writing about fashion–the photographic genre that comes immediately to mind when you think of a photographer working with large crews of people to realize his/her vision. Also, she’s picked up on a horribly cringe-worthy quote–I’m actually disappointed Crewdson said it–and printed the damn thing: ” ‘There are two possible interpretations,’ he says of his work. ‘One is the possibility of impossibility and two is the impossibility of possibility.’ ” Oh, these artists–so zany, and so full of paradoxical wisdom! We commoners may not agree on what they mean, but we can all agree on one heartwarming fact: we want them to keep doing whatever it is they do.
Overall, this isn’t a bad piece. It provides some nice information about Crewdson’s life, but its photographic naïveté really chafes.
2.) “In A Lonely Place” by Gregory Crewdson, in Aperture 190
It’s always fun to hear an artist talk about their influences, especially when they’re wrong. Not that Crewdson is necessarily “wrong,” but it’s interesting to see who he sees as his forebears versus who an outside viewer can see in his work. I definitely see David Lynch in Crewdson’s work–especially his pictures from the early nineties, which look so much like the bird and bug close-ups in Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet that it’s surprising Lynch didn’t sue. (I disagree with Crewdson’s estimate of Lynch. What was revolutionary about Blue Velvet & co. was not that they found something troubling beneath the apparently wholesome and mundane lives of the middle classes–that had been done–but that they blended the fake and the real in an almost post-camp way, while also deepening the psychosexual horror of what EXACTLY was under the surface. Regardless, Crewdson does seem to have picked up a few clues from Lynch, and it works for him.) I also agree on the lineage connecting him with Edward Hopper. The other connections cited…well, the photographers he named may have produced a few images that resonate with or resemble his own, but I wouldn’t exactly lump Crewdson and, say, Eggleston together (although they both have a fondness for small-town detritus like tricycles). These artists may have inspired Crewdson, but I wouldn’t say that their inspiration shows an obvious impact in his work.
While I found this interview disjointed–the Flash design is confusing and there’s no obvious place to access the full text–and occasionally a bit rambling, Aperture has put together a really great online feature. Not only is there an interview with Crewdson, but there are interviews with or statements from several of his crew members as well. Much of the discussion focuses on Crewdson’s process, which is very interesting–he has a fixed 8×10 camera shoot multiple negatives with different focal planes and lighting, then digitally splices his favorite elements together. (That explains why there’s no crisp focus in his works, but no real blurring, either. To me they don’t even look like photographs–which, according to Crewdson, is the point: “I’ve always said, if I could figure out a way to do this without a camera, I would.”) In short, Aperture delivers and explains the uniqueness that New York only posits.
Crewdson is impressively self-aware. One of my major critiques of his work would have to be the sheer repetitiveness of it: he’s been re-creating virtually the same scene again and again for years. Melissa Harris doesn’t exactly play hardball with Crewdson (when was the last time anyone did, in an arts interview? It’s too tight-knit of a community, and no one can afford to offend), but the issue comes up anyway. He notes that artists frequently have a thematic obsession, so “you’re doomed to repeat the [same] story over and over again.”
Three articles, three different approaches to explaining photography. It’s telling, and sort of sad, that the best technical and cultural background only appears in the magazine marketed to an audience that already knows a lot about photography.
All images © Gregory Crewdson.