Brief Encounters: Gregory Crewdson
–Its all in the Details
Photography is renown for its
spontaneity and ability to capture
a fleeting moment. In the race
to the finish line, many photographers
forget that the little details matter.
Follow Gregory Crewdson as he
shows us how attention to detail
can transform the most ordinary
scene into a mind bending
landscape where reality and
imagination meld into one.
Accidental Diane Arbus
Every year, millions of people visit the same exhibitions and museums around the world. But in the mind of a few artists, the alchemy of experience, knowledge and influence explode into a body of work that makes us wonder, “How come I didn’t see that before?”
When people talk about Crewdson’s work, there are regular references to Diane Arbus, Edward Hopper and Steve Speilberg. Crewdson never hides his inspirations, which is even more telling of his abilities. Like a good chef, who will give you all his recipes because he knows that the magic lies outside of the words on paper, Crewdson talks openly about the evolution of his work. The transition from obscure photography student to internationally recognized artist and head of the Yale Photography department appears seamless, but was actually a twenty year struggle which started with one exhibition.
Crewdson recalled that his family did not go to museums with any frequency. His father decided to take them to a Diane Arbus show on afternoon. This unexpected trip played an enormous role in his development as a photographer. In the coming years, young Crewdson would experiment with being in a rock band, join a photography class to pick up a girl, and eventually photograph the landscape of suburban life with a twist that no one could have predicted.
This is not the first time I am writing about Gregory Crewdson (read my other article here) in this site. I am a great admirer of his work. What I enjoy even more than his images, is how he managed to piece together multiple influences in a voice that is truly his own. The recent film “Brief Encounters” looks at the way in which artists, photographers, and life experiences influenced Crewdson’s, culminating in three bodies of work:
Art is not an Accident
We would love for great images to just pour into the lens. A few years of shooting will show even the most ardent optimist that we need more than fancy equipment and shutter actuations to make a great image. For Crewdson, it requires months of thought, preparation and the crew of a small movie. His style of making images is unique, particularly to the world of documentary or street work. But it serves a purpose for any photographer to see what happens when every detail of a photograph can be carefully selected.
When I speak with most photographers about the problems of signs and advertisements on the street, they always reassure me that it is just part of our landscape. But it seems that many photographer take for granted the conditions in front of the lens. What would a city look like if we could remove everything but the essentials and eliminate all of the thoughtless static that clutters city life?
Unlike a nostalgic return to 1930’s Paris, Crewdson plays out this experiment as he cuts down sign, adds artificial light, and arranges the street to conform to his vision. There is no promise of truth in any of his pictures. It is a departure from his roots as a student of Yale’s photography department when documentary journalism was the rage. Now as the director the pendulum has swung the opposite direction. Art is a dynamic beast, that manages to shift and expand all at the same time.
While many people will not believe they have much in common with Crewdson, the film shows us how accessible his ideas and practices are to anyone who is willing to invest the time. His images are meditations on his own dreams and the uncomfortable space when we lose sight of reality in our imagination.
“Brief Encounters” is a film that every photographer should see and possibly own. I had a chance to see the initial screening at the Film Forum, here in NYC, but I expect it will be available on iTunes or DVD soon. Be sure to watch it because the next great image might be in your own back yard.