Gregory Crewdson was born in 1962 in Brooklyn, his career has spanned three decades with his work exhibited widely in the United States and Europe and included in many public collections such as The Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Brooklyn Museum, The Los Angeles County Museum and The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
His most well-known bodies of work are probably Natural Wonder, Twilight, Dream House (a 2002 commission by The New York Times Magazine), Beneath the Roses, and Sanctuary.
Beneath the Roses, a series of pictures that took nearly ten years to complete—with a crew of over one hundred cumulatively—was the subject of the 2012 feature documentary Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters, by Ben Shapiro.
Crewdson’s photographs usually take place in small-town America, but are dramatic and cinematic featuring often disturbing, surreal events that usually take place at twilight. In creating what he calls ‘frozen moments’, he has developed a process akin to the making of a feature film. Operating on an epic scale, he uses a large crew to shoot and then develop the images during post-production.They are elaborately staged and lit using crews familiar with motion picture production using motion picture film equipment and techniques.
He created a body of work titled Twilight ‘where every detail was meticulously planned and staged, in particular the lighting. In some instances, extra lighting and special effects such as artificial rain or dry ice are used to enhance a natural moment of twilight. In others, the effect of twilight is entirely artificially created.’
Crewdson has cited the films Vertigo, The Night of the Hunter, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Blue Velvet, and Safe as having influenced his style, as well as the painter Edward Hopper and photographer Diane Arbus.
He gave an insightful interview to The American Reader about his techniques as a ‘director’ and how little he tries to interact with his ‘subjects’, how he constructs his scenes, one was a scene from psycho…
AR. …we learn that the bathroom is a reconstruction of the bathroom in Psycho. Do you want viewers to recognize these symbols and be subconsciously affected?
GC: Right. Well, in that particular case, for me that was the starting point. I started thinking of motel rooms, and I thought of that motel room in Psycho. But that was just a starting point, and through the process of making the picture, the picture changed.
I think subconsciously we all have a connection to that imagery and a certain kind of dread.
AR: Do photographs naturally inspire or have more potential to inspire dread? It’s so interesting that you used that word because I’ve felt that in front of photographs before and I’ve just never put my finger on it. Is there just something about a still image?
GC: That’s an interesting proposition. I do think that dread is about a certain kind of expectation. And the fact that a picture can never resolve itself the way a movie can—maybe that’s a specific kind of dread that becomes associated with a picture.
I also found this observation very telling
AR: Towards the end of the documentary you talk about the inevitable disappointment of this imperfect translation of the image in your mind into what it becomes. Are you always disappointed?
GC: Yes. I think that’s the nature of representation. No matter what it will disappoint, it will fail in some way.
But that’s also part of the magic of art. If every picture met my expectation in exactly the right way, there’d be no mystery; there’d be no gap between what’s in my head and the picture I make. So it’s necessary. But it sure disappoints you. It’s also what propels you to make the next one.
Multiple shots are taken and then merged together in Photoshop to create his final vision. Wow, so very stage-managed, very expensive to create images that evoke certain emotions. Again a good tie in with assignment two looking at conceptual and surreal images that stand alone to create a certain feeling and reflect specific abstract themes such as dread.