GREGORY CREWDSON: one of the greatest art photographers.
Behind-the-scenes representations of rural American life, imbued with a strange and mysterious dreamlike atmosphere;
The photographs of Gregory Crewdson are dramatic scenes that have stopped in time, and it's up to the viewer to imagine the story. He is one of the greatest art photographers.
The photographs of the man, known as "Edward Hopper of Photography", are the subject of a complex production and meticulous attention to detail in the composition, in which light occupies a central place.
To do this, Gregory Crewdson has built over the years a team worthy of a film set.
Gregory Crewdson's Debut in Photography
Gregory Crewdson was born in Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York, on September 26, 1962. His earliest memory of the photography dates back to his 10th birthday when his father took him to see the Diane Arbus retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
He describes this experience as "his first understanding of the mystery and complexity of images" and for the first time discovers that photographs can have a psychological aspect and psychological power.
He didn't start practicing until later when he enrolled in Purchase in his first photography class while studying at State University of New York.
While destined for a career as a psychologist, it made sense for him to take permanent, static photos in the footsteps of his father, who had difficulty writing, reading, and having clear linear thinking as a dyslexic.
At the same time, he took film theory lessons with Tom Gynning - which had a big impact for him. He discovered Blue Velvet by David Lynch and Third Kind Meetings by Spielberg.
The accessibility of these films, which reveal a rather dark side, shows the tension that his photographic universe will show later. His artistic universe was largely shaped by his childhood.
Son of a psychoanalyst, he remembers hearing the confidence of certain patients while listening. These neurotic stories produced her photo halfway between cinema and the dark side of the American way of life.
He draws his inspiration from literature and cinema. Its atmospheres are inspired by the films of Spielberg or Lynch for their science fiction and their foreign worlds; and also remember the colors and the original fantasy of Wes Anderson.
There are also references to Jeff Walls.
At 26, Gregory Crewdson produces its first series "Early Work". A work from 1986 to 1988 which laid the foundations of its universe by illustrating the boredom and emptiness in American families.
Compared to the American dream of life, the series suggests that the latter appears only illusory. Three years later, he began his second series "Natural Wonder", on which he worked for six years until 1997.
The photographs immortalize dreamlike or monstrous micro-events and represent corpses that stand out from a dreamlike rural environment.
His style is defined: in an environment that seems to be typical of the normal gardens of rural America, a kind of weirdness arises that is linked to opposites.
An ultra-productive phase follows, where the photographer tries his hand at black and white full of poetry and melancholy with the series “Negative”.
At the same time, he produced the series "Hover", which at first glance shows ordinary suburban streets; but if you look at the details, you see some weird and weird scenes.
The Strange Atmosphere of Crewdson With "Twilight"
it's a series he's been working on for almost five years - Gregory Crewdson began to deal with the cinematic lighting of his style.
He makes better use of the narrative aspect of the photographs by constructing intricate and highly detailed compositions that are captured in full reconstructions in the studio or outside of Massachusetts.
Missing appearance, translucent complexion, bizarre and mysterious situations, work with colors and atmosphere; his photographs stimulate the imagination of the viewer.
We discover a woman floating absently in a flooded living room; A teenager who plunges his hand in the shower and who has access to the underground world which creates this contrast between the place of everyday life and travel in the imaginary feeling of voyeurism.
The team of Gregory Crewdson has grown over the years. The artist's visions require impressive installations.
He works closely with Juliane Hiam, his studio director, artistic director and partner, with whom he writes the scenes for his images. He also works with cameraman Rick Sands and Daniel Karp and his producer Saskia Rifkin.
A way of working similar to that of cinema, and yet there is no before or after in photography. Just frozen for a moment. The photographer uses this limitation, which he finds positive in his work; to create more mystery.
If the series “Beneath the Roses” uses the same codes and the same style, the photographs will be more centered on the psychological aspect and the real events. “Creating an image is an act of research. It's research, an act of self-discovery
. Loneliness, discomfort, disillusion and frustration make up the complexity of the feelings that have been inspired by the photographs in the series. The characters seem to wander expressionless.
These photographs represent moments in everyday life when time has stopped to take an irrational turn, explains Gregory Crewdson.
This is the last series he shoots in the bedroom with a Hasselblad 8 × 10 - his usual camera, chosen for its clarity and precise presentation of details. A medium format of Phase One is now used.
In 2002, he directed “Dream House” with actresses Julianne Moore, Gwyneth Paltrow and Tilda Swindon, which he directed in this strange atmosphere.
The year 2009 was followed by "Sanctuary": black and white photographs taken as a documentary on Cinecittà studios in Rome. Intended to compete with Hollywood, he photographed those abandoned studios that were on their way to becoming a ghost town - and made these two series sacred for its close connection to cinema.
The evolution of the Crewdson style
After 5 years of no longer producing, Crewdson returned in 2014 with a new series, Cathedral of the Pines, combining the exterior and interior of the town of Becket, Massachusetts, where he spent his childhood.
In winter, the characters are always plunged into this type of void, alone, as if they were not connected.
Gregory Crewdson makes this series after a dark phase in her life and sees her as characters in an attempt to 'connect'. For him, art and life mix and feed each other.
Gregory Crewdson's photographs, which border on reality, are a mixture of dreamy, mysterious and disenchanted outdoor spaces and private cameras, which result from the absolute control of every element of which his images are composed.
Making of a GREGORY CREWDSON shoot
Eric CANTO Photographer: Concert photos, portraits, album covers.
BONUS: The intervew of Gregory Crewdson
When did you think of becoming a photographer?
Gregory Crewdson: I think my first memory of photographs came when my father brought me to the Museum of Modern Art when I was ten to see the Diane Arbus retrospective.
I remember precisely that it was the first impression I had that photographs could have psychological urgency and power.
It was my first understanding of the mystery and complexity of images.
But it wasn't until later in life that I became a practicing photographer. I took my first photography class at SUNY Purchase when I was a student.
It comes from frustrations with general academics because I'm dyslexic and have always struggled to read, write, and take tests.
Originally, I wanted to study psychology and follow my father's path, but I had a crush on a girl who was a major in photography. I ended up taking a photography class taught by Laurie Simmons.
This is where I took my first photos and fell in love with photography. I think it was the stillness and the static nature of the photographs that appealed to me because, as I said earlier, I have issues with my linear thoughts. So it made perfect sense to me.
Before Yale, did you create your own portfolio?
Gregory Crewdson: Yeah. I had this weird threesome specialization at SUNY Purchase which was photography, film studies, and American literature. It was like a liberal arts education. I went to Yale about a year after graduating from the SUNY Purchase photography department.
Was Yale the same as she is now, and how has that experience helped you get to where you are today?
It was very different then. I am the director now, but the structure of the program remains the same. When I was there it was much more geared towards a traditional understanding of the medium.
He still has those values, but I think we've opened up quite dramatically. I don't know if higher education necessarily helps you.
It is by design that you are pushed to the limit. It is a very demanding program. On the contrary, it helped me defend my special position. I think that's what graduate school is supposed to do when you come of age as a photographer.
Every artist matures, and when you come of age in the early 20s, you're sort of fixed with issues and consents for the rest of your life. You don't really change much from that point on. You can reinvent yourself in small degrees.
You said that every artist has a story to tell. But aren't there musicians, painters, photographers etc. reinventing themselves and doing something totally different - or don't you buy that?
Gregory Crewdson: When I say artists have a story to tell, I don't mean it will necessarily always be the same.
What I mean is that the story is told through their work, and this is where you can see the obsessions.
You can see the fears, the desires, the cornerstones of your story, but that could change dramatically in terms of appearance. If you follow the development of an artist over time, in many areas, I would say the basic story remains the same.
The themes of your story - can you sum them up in a word or two? Is it loneliness or isolation?
Gregory Crewdson: If I knew exactly what this story was, I wouldn't have to take the pictures.
I think part of the story, or part of the central tenor of that story, is a search for connection or a search for home, a search for some kind of connection outside of yourself - a sensible sense of order.
Photography is a lonely business, and I think all photographers are somehow drawn to the medium by some sort of alienated point of view.
The simple act of looking through a lens, a viewfinder, is an act of separation. It is an attempt to try to find the connection outside of yourself.
The Cathedral of Pines was based on the places your father showed you. How did the idea come about? Have you cast via an agency or online?
Gregory Crewdson: There was a long time between the Shrines, my last work, and the Cathedral of Pines - mainly because I went through a very difficult time in my life.
I went through a difficult divorce. I have two children; I moved from New York and into a church in Massachusetts. I was going through a period of dislocation and misery. I started taking long walks on the Appalachian Trail and doing long swims.
You may know that I am an open water swimmer and a cross country skier in the winter. It was a way of trying to reconnect with nature.
And, I was doing all the pictures in Becket, where my family had a house. And one winter, I was cross-country skiing in a pine forest. And there is a little sign that says: Cathedral of the Pines. That's when the idea came to me.
And was it a fun and creative business?
Gregory Crewdson: Well, I would never call it enjoyable, that's not the word I would ever use. The shoots were difficult.
We work as a film crew and the conditions were tough. We were working on a small budget and under unfavorable conditions, and all of these struggles made things even better.
You feel alive. But it is not necessarily pleasant. When you feel alive, you feel challenged, you feel creative.
But it's much easier not to work than to work. When you're not taking pictures, you're not being challenged. So it really comes down to it.
You said if you don't work you feel like a thief.
Gregory Crewdson: Well yeah. You are known as an artist and a teacher, and that's what you do. So when you don't do what you preach, it's fraudulent. As for the subjects, everyone is from the region.
I work closely with Juliane, whom I think you have met. She is in a lot of photos. She is my studio director and the creative director. He is also my partner and my muse.
How did you evolve into filming with such cinematic lighting and large crews? It is unusual for an art photographer to have a full camera crew.
Gregory Crewdson: I work closely with a DP, a director of photography. We have been working together for many years. If there is one characteristic that separates my work from other artists, it is the light.
And to me, that's the most important thing in the whole business - the light. This is how you tell the story in photography, through light. We started to work more dramatically in this way with the Twilight series.
Are you using all continuous light? And was it difficult to get the budget together?
Gregory Crewdson: It's a continuous light, and it's very painstakingly staged. One of our characteristics is to have big lights in the elevators, like daylight.
Yeah, it was hard, but you know what? What people never fully understand is that the process started very organically.
It all started slowly and the small group has grown into a larger group. Then slowly but surely we've built a team over the years, and suddenly you work with a team. For me, that's how I know how to take pictures.
Missing smaller, intimate photos from the old days?
Gregory Crewdson: The Cathedral of Pines by relative standards, is much smaller than anything we've ever done - like with Beneath the Roses. We had a very small group, as I wanted the photos to be intimate.
Yet being so familiar with great crews that you've never thought of directing feature films?
Gregory Crewdson: Well, actually, it's always been a permanent issue. We are currently discussing the possibility of making a movie - a Hollywood movie. It could happen. It might not happen. So it would have to be absolutely the right circumstance for that to happen.
But you once said that you can't lead, that's not what you do.
Gregory Crewdson: I think like a photographer. I think in terms of still images. So if I make a movie, it wouldn't be like any other. It would have a more urgent feel than other films as it would be from a stationary photographer's point of view.
So you are looking for scripts?
Gregory Crewdson: We get scripts all the time. Juliane and I are working on a script. She's the writer and I'm taking notes.
Did you do a lot of editorial or advertising photography?
Gregory Crewdson: No, that doesn't really interest me. I did a few things, rare exceptions. But I feel like I'm an artist first and foremost, and if you use your sensitivity to sell something, then it's not really yours anymore.
It's a mission. Some people don't know the difference.
Gregory Crewdson: Yeah.
You shoot mainly in Massachusetts. Have you ever thought about doing something urban, in a very different place like New York or China?
Gregory Crewdson: No, I think some artists have certain areas, or a place that they respond to, that they like to work with and that is the case with me.
Who are your favorite photographers, past or present? I think Diane Arbus is in there?
Gregory Crewdson: Arbus, of course, Eggleston, Walker Evans. My son is called Walker in honor of Walker Evans. Cindy Sherman, of course. These are a few of my favorites.
You used to shoot 8x10 for many years, and now you shoot digitally. What's your system now, and are you missing 8x10, or are you feeling liberated?
Gregory Crewdson: Yeah. I used to have that expression, because I've worked with 8x 10 for so long in my life, you live and die by 8 x10.
It's such a limited camera, but it also has such clarity and a beautiful description. Still, it's a beast - it's bulky and its focus is limited. I can honestly say that when I was done with Beneath the Roses I was done with 8x10.
I don't miss it at all, and I can't imagine going back. But that doesn't mean I regret using it. I liked it. Now I am photographing with a Phase One camera, but it is set up as a vision camera.
What is the quality of your prints?
Gregory Crewdson: It's even better. Simply in terms of ease and being able to see what you are filming.
One of the big disadvantages of 8x10 shooting is that you can't see what you're looking at. One of the big paradoxes of this huge production is that you don't know what's going on with the footage.
With the Epson paper you use, is there a type you prefer, glossy or matte, and do you usually have white borders?
Gregory Crewdson: Epson sponsored my last series and gave me a brand new printer with paper. The paper I use is paper that was not on the market but I believe it is now.
This is not my area of expertise, so I will have to ask my printer what the name of the paper is. I like the chandelier. For Cathedral of the Pines, we just thought it would be nice to have a white border.
Do you sign your prints on the front, back or not at all?
Gregory Crewdson: The image is mounted and framed, then the signature is on a sticker that is part of the frame.
And you do editions of five?
And do you have a framer?
Yes. Mark Elliot, who is in Boston.
And Gagosian is your main gallery?
Gregory Crewdson: Gagosian is my main gallery. I work directly with them. I love this.
It is a very large gallery and we have had a very good working relationship so far. Then, as the show opens in different countries, we will be working with other galleries as well.
Do you have something to say to the artist about the world of the gallery?
Gregory Crewdson: I think the most important thing is to understand that no matter what you get or where you are, you will have to continuously fight - nothing will ever be easy. And you will always have to go ahead and make room in the world.
Are there some crazy or wild art projects that you haven't done that you want to do?
Gregory Crewdson: No, I feel like I'm very lucky to be able to achieve exactly what I want to achieve. With Cathedral of the Pines, I have the impression that for the first time I could not have done better than me the images. It was very satisfying.
In the past, did you feel like you could have done better?
Gregory Crewdson: Yeah, that's natural, but for this show, in part because I've been away from the art world for five years, he had a really big reaction. And I feel completely satisfied on some level. Especially since I isolated myself for years.
Do you enjoy teaching at Yale in New Haven?
Gregory Crewdson: I have been teaching for a long time and for me it is very precious to teach. And it's still important to feel connected to the next generation of artists to come. You learn as much as you teach. I approach him as an artist, and less like an academic.
So did it help your art?
Gregory Crewdson: Yes of course.
Do you think of your work as lasting or remembered after you leave?
Gregory Crewdson: Well, absolutely. I mean this is your legacy, this is what you have left, and especially in the age of Instagram, and photos on cellphones and social media; it's a real challenge to think that photography still has meaning.