Gregory Crewdson

In preparation for Assignment Three on Buildings, I completed research into photographer Gregory Crewdson in order to gain a little insight into the varying approaches to capturing buildings in use.

Crewdson was born in America in 1962 and studied photography at Yale university; receiving a Master of Fine Arts. This artistic photographer has a very quirky and original style to his work, yet a disturbing one at that. “Gregory Crewdson, an American artist renowned for his elaborately devised photographs of small-town life, digs into the commonplace and familiar to find images that are haunting, surreal and—most agree—profoundly unnerving.(1)” Crewdson looks for images of real life; and aims to capture them in a profoundly different way. He doesn’t look for the greatness of an image; but instead he looks for frightening perspectives of daily life; looking to capture the immensity of human drama. In capturing everyday homes, spaces and situations; his images show how photographers can take otherwise mundane situations and transform them through artistic and creative photography. This is similar to the work and style of photographer Phillip-Lorca diCorcia who I researched in my previous module. Lorca diCorcia also transforms mundane situations into fascinating scenes. We see that this method of transformation was not a simple choice of framing or natural lighting for Crewdson. Instead his images are created with great production and theatrics; similar to that of a movie set. “Like in theatre, films, or painting, the artist works with changing light, twilight; he creates scenes in which natural light competes with spotlight and floodlight. Thanks to lighting, setting, framing and staging and to cinematographic post-production; all real-life scenes are reshaped, modulated and accentuated until they resemble a dream and suggest the instant of revelation between the physical and metaphysical world.(2)” We see an example of the immensity of Crewdson’s extensive movie-type set ups below. The extravagant lighting set-up is what stands out to me in the image below. The importance of good lighting when attempting to create the desired mood in this type of photography is vital. Creative lighting is the key to these great images, and works in providing a variety of visual effects that make these photographs so successful in conveying a certain mood. A blend of natural and artificial lighting is used in these images.  It’s all this careful detail that contributes greatly to the richness of Crewdson’s work.

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One of Crewdson’s greatest examples of the power of lighting in photography is that of a woman planting flowers in her kitchen. The shot is produced carefully in the studio using amazing studio lighting. From studying this image I can see that there isn’t just one key light hitting the subject here, but various light sources, all providing different degrees of lighting. We see that there are a few lights to the left and right of the model, acting as front fill modelling lights. Other lighting is also used behind the model to shape the highlights on her face. There is another light behind the kitchen door to the back of the scene in order to create the effect of sunlight streaming through the window. This is teamed with the majority of the lighting centring around the right of the frame; shining through the windows and hitting the model in several spotlights. A fog machine must have been used to create the light streaks. This highlights the great deal of thought and care taken in creating the best lighting possible in Crewdson’s scenes. And thus; this is what makes this specific shot such a successful image; with the lighting creating intense moody and sinister qualities.

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So we have seen the huge element that lighting brings to Crewdson’s images. However, we also see that all this effort and care is taken on extremely mundane and ordinary scenes and buildings. This is in stark comparison to other photographers such as Annie Leibovitz who produces equally staged and carefully planned images; but of much more exciting scenes of fantasy and excitement. Crewdson works so hard to create images of everyday life in everyday buildings and houses. “His images are rich in detail, and there is not a thing in the frame—not a stain, not a lampshade—that he does not carefully select. And yet, this abundance of detail is balanced with a striking lack of information—the settings are ordinary (a suburban kitchen, a living room, a dark street corner).(5)” So why does Crewdson put all this effort into producing scenes from everyday human life? Because he wants his viewers to be able to put themselves right into the frame. To bring to the image what they wish, and to take from it equally. Crewdson’s images can be interpreted in a variety of ways to each different viewer. That’s the beauty and magic of his photography. “What the viewer brings to it is almost more important than what I bring to it. I’m very moved by the fact that people are drawn into the pictures and that they do bring their own history and their own interpretation to the photograph. I think that’s why they work in a certain way.”(6) His photos create such an evocative mood that the viewer truly becomes a part of the story. He transforms an average moment into an eerie yet fascinating scene. THIS is what makes his images successful. This is a huge point which I intend to take on board in my next assignment. Crewdson has shown me that anything can become a great image through hard work and preparation. A great image does not have to be that which is the most vast or beautiful; but can be anything at all when created with imagination and creativity. Thus, the same applies to capturing buildings in use. Producing an image where the viewer can place themselves right in the frame is a great skill; and something which I intend to attempt in my next assignment; aiming to produce images where the viewer can literally picture themselves in the building. Below you will find a few more of Crewdson’s great pieces.

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(1) THE AMERICAN READER (2013), Interview with Photographer Gregory Crewdson, Available from: http://theamericanreader.com/interview-with-photographer-gregory-crewdson/ [Accessed: 03/06/13]

(2) THE GROUND (2013), Gregory Crewdson: An interview with, Available from: http://www.thegroundmag.com/gregory-crewdson-an-interview-with/ [Accessed: 03/06/13]

(3) FILMS WE LIKE (2012), Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters, Available from: http://filmswelike.com/films/gregorycrewdson/ [Accessed: 03/06/13]

(4) LIFE LOUNGE (2007), Gregory Crewdson Photography, Available from: http://www.lifelounge.com.au/photography/news/gregory-crewdson-photography.aspx#gallerytop [Accessed: 03/06/13]

(5) THE AMERICAN READER (2013), Interview with Photographer Gregory Crewdson, Available from: http://theamericanreader.com/interview-with-photographer-gregory-crewdson/ [Accessed: 03/06/13]

(6) THE AMERICAN READER (2013), Interview with Photographer Gregory Crewdson, Available from: http://theamericanreader.com/interview-with-photographer-gregory-crewdson/ [Accessed: 03/06/13]

(7-12) LIFE LOUNGE (2007), Gregory Crewdson Photography, Available from: http://www.lifelounge.com.au/photography/news/gregory-crewdson-photography.aspx#gallerytop [Accessed: 03/06/13]

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