Gregory Crewdson

Contemporary photographer Gregory Crewdson doesn't take pictures. Instead, he spends several months meticulously planning surreal and elaborately staged scenes of American homes and neighborhoods. Building his stage sets from scratch, his large-scale photographs require a crew of 40 to 50 people to set up the detailed and suspenseful scenes, including lighting, set designers, and even casting directors.

Gregory Crewdson: “Untitled,” 2005

Contemporary photographer Gregory Crewdson doesn’t take pictures. Instead, he spends several months meticulously planning surreal and elaborately staged scenes of American homes and neighborhoods. Building his stage sets from scratch, his large-scale photographs require a crew of 40 to 50 people to set up the detailed and suspenseful scenes, including lighting, set designers, and even casting directors. Crewdson’s cinematic approach to photography makes him an innovative artist whose images lie between reality and theatricality.

Growing up in Park Slope, New York, Gregory Crewdson recalls spending his childhood attempting to decipher the muffled voices coming from the basement of his Brooklyn home, where his psychoanalyst father would see his patients. Although Crewdson has abandoned his act of eavesdropping, the Freudian implications of the mysteries that lie beneath the surface have become a predominant theme in his work. The sense of voyeurism and tension that existed in his home has influenced Crewdson to explore the tensions that exist in the in-between moments of everyday life.

Despite being heavily influenced by Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch, and Steven Spielberg’s films, Crewdsons’ photographs do not provide a continuous narrative in the sameway that films do. Instead, Crewdson seeks to create the most mysterious and captivating images that can stand independently. His captivatingly detailed photographs present the viewer with more questions than answers. Using the limiting aspects of photography to his advantage, Gregory Crewdson utilizes devices such as lighting to accentuate the tension in his scenes. Fascinated by the qualities of twilight and the psychological significance of the transition from day to night, it is no wonder that Crewdson is most interested in moments of suspension. His photographs, also inspired by Norman Rockwell and Edward Hopper’s depictions of small-town America, exist in the threshold between the familiar and the unknown, between the calm and the unsettled.

In this particular photograph, Untitled, Crewdson reveals a glimpse of the production phase required to create one of his images. Made evident by the stage lighting on the ceiling, the photograph demonstrates a transitory point of the process in Crewdson’s photography, which we rarely get to witness. Crewdson’s characteristic use of doorways is also demonstrated in this scene. The doorway separates an isolated bedroom from the bathroom where a naked woman is standing. The doorway provides the viewer with two simultaneous scenes as well as a constant sense of voyeurism. Accompanying the nude model in the bathroom is a female member of the stage crew who is applying fake blood onto the woman’s leg. Gregory Crewdson himself is also seen next to the two women while directing the scene. The details present in the bedroom, such as the luggage and decorations of the room lead us to believe that this is a temporary location, such as a hotel room, revealing a sense of isolation.

As in all of Crewdson’s photographs, the setting appears to be organized, yet there is an underlying sense of disorder and chaos. The visual juxtaposition of the perfectly made bed, the organized closet versus the open luggage and clothes thrown on the floor emphasize that this is particularly a moment of transition. As a photographer whose methods stretch between the genres of cinema and photography, Gregory Crewdson’s images maintain a balance between the ordinary and the otherworldly to create a hyper-reality that exists solely in a moment of suspension.

Written by Amy Vazquez (SC ’09) 2008-2009 Wilson Intern