Falling In Love With Gregory Crewdson


So here we are. I managed to navigate through a minefield of procrastination and sit still long enough with a metaphorical gun to my head to write the first instalment of my Falling In Love With… series (I’m aware that statement sounds like I didn’t want to write this post, which couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality is, balancing on top of my monument of flaws is the attention span of a gnat, so whenever I have to do something that requires concentration for a long period of time, the tip of a metaphorical gun must remain firmly pressed against my temple, otherwise, I would never achieve anything). For the first instalment of this series, I have picked the most difficult person to write about. He is only difficult to write about because my love for his work runs deeper than my love for anyone else’s. It’s a big statement, I know, but while staring at other similarly talented photographer’s work makes my nerves tingle, staring at Gregory Crewdson’s makes my world move.

I remember stumbling across one of his photographs for the first time and feeling like I had been kicked in the chest. The world of photography can be such a confusing place when you’re trying to break into it and I felt lost to the point of wondering what the fuck I was doing anymore. I had spent about a year assisting on shoots for fashion photographers and was beginning to feel disheartened by how clinical the creative process was when it came to fashion. The experience was invaluable and there were a few photographers who were really refreshing to work with but on the whole, nothing seemed to last forever and people were only ever in awe of something for a split second before a new issue of a new magazine came out and the amnesia kicked in. I was also struggling to define the kind of photography I wanted to create in my own mind, fashion seemed like the only option and I was desperately wishing for something more to say when someone asked me what kind of photography I was interested in than just, “you know, like, art photography”. When I saw a photograph taken by Gregory Crewdson, it was like waking up from a coma. It felt like a word that had been stuck on the tip of my tongue for as long as I could remember had finally dislodged from the roof of my mouth. I knew instantly that was the type of art I wanted to make, to create a world and everything in it. Describing the dreams in my head became so much easier when I could show whoever I was talking to a picture of his work and say, “someday, I want to be this great”. Discovering this area of photography that was previously non-existent to me also opened my eyes to an abundance of photographers with a similar style and falling down that rabbit hole of discovery was the easiest yet.

Of course, the fact I could define the style of photography I wanted to create was only a fraction of the reason I fell in love with Gregory Crewdson’s work. Over everything, I fell in love with the images themselves and the way I could get completely lost in them. There is an eeriness to his photographs that is hard to put into words, often depicting uncomfortable situations in suburban neighbourhoods that leave you with a distinct feeling of having witnessed something you shouldn’t have. The settings are almost always isolated. When the subject is stranded in the middle of the street – the street is deserted, nighttime is drawing in and you can’t help but feel so utterly alone as the scene sucks you in. Every photograph shot on location is shot during twilight because, as he explains, “my pictures are a moment between moments and twilight is a perfect metaphor for that”. Once I found out the process behind his photographs, that was it for me, I was hooked forever. Each photograph is elaborately staged down to the minutia, every detail is on purpose, carefully decided and almost nothing is by accident. Gregory Crewdson is meticulous, from controlling the weather in all of his photographs, shutting off roads, shutting down towns and using giant hoses to make the roads slightly glisten to painstakingly creating sound stages that encapsulate the tiny details in his head; the right amount of peeling wallpaper down to the style of the fixtures and even the colour of the blankets on the bed. All of these seemingly unimportant specifics flesh out a world built from layers upon layers of the tiniest details that all come together to sink the photographs even further into reality.

Fashion photoshoots can be large scale, but nothing compares to Crewdson’s employment of huge film crews (the whole production process costs nearly as much as an independent movie) just to capture one moment in time. I have reeled off this information to countless people thinking that they would be just as in awe of the scale of the operation as I am, only to be met with scrunched up faces and comments like “what a waste” and “he might as well just make a movie” and I have to fight the urge not to overreact and shout, “you’re missing the point!” I encourage anyone who has a similar opinion to watch Brief Encounters (2012), a documentary that follows Crewdson’s elaborate process and gives an insight into his personality of a philosophical perfectionist. When I watched it, I found it hard not to quote every single thing he says because it is all so profound, but profound in a way that is obvious he isn’t making a conscious effort to make his words profound, they just are. In reference to his photography, he explains that “the images are creating a world – images in my head, towns were backdrops for submerged psychological trauma, projections of my own story exploring my own anxieties, fears, desires.” Brief Encounters is so worth watching because you get to see the immense detail that goes into creating the images and the intricate explanations behind them. I also love behind the scene’s footage that ordinarily you wouldn’t see, such as the way he directs his subjects before finally saying something like, “just get lost in your own mood, okay?”

In Brief Encounters, Gregory Crewdson is forever searching. We aren’t entirely sure what he’s searching for but we’re excited for him to find it. At one point he explains that “all my pictures are a search for a moment, a perfect moment in a way”. His anxiety towards his own work really struck a chord with me, confessing that while creating his series Beneath The Roses there was never a morning he didn’t wake up feeling absolutely sick to his stomach and filled with a sense of doom. Of course, the pressure is substantial because as he says, “unlike a movie, a photograph is frozen so it has to be exactly right”. It is refreshing to hear such a successful photographer admit that he has his own insecurities, especially when it comes to his own work, but he always reminds himself “if you’re not going to make the pictures, no one else will”. This is something that I have to continuously remind myself with both photography and writing. The idea that the stories and images in my head will never be seen by anyone else pushes me to work when I really feel like I can’t.

It’s always exciting to find someone’s work that you love, and it’s even more satisfying when you discover the person behind the work is equally as interesting. I have an unwavering urge to find out how people create the things that I’m obsessed with and find that many photographers are so secretive when it comes to the process of creating their work. While at times, it can be frustrating for a person who wants to understand everything she’s looking at, I can understand the motive behind wanting to keep the mystique…well, mystical. So you can probably understand my joy in being able to watch one of the greatest living photographers at work, on screen, and understand how he brings his pictures to life. He lifts the curtain on his sombre, otherworldly creations while keeping the magic so carefully intact. In Brief Encounters, he explains that Blue Velvet (1986) was the film that changed his view on the world, and I can mirror the sentiment, Gregory Crewdson is the photographer that changed my view on the world. Finally, before I finish fangirling so hard, I will leave you with one last quote in a post riddled with quotes – “to me, the most powerful moment in the whole process is when everything comes together, and there is that perfect, beautiful, still moment and for that instance, my life makes sense.”

All images © Gregory Crewdson




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.